March for Reproductive Rights photo

Protestors march with signs through College Square toward City Hall in Athens, Georgia, on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. The March for Reproductive Justice began at the Arch and ended at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse. (Photo/Jessica Gratigny; @jgratphoto)

Students and organizations from all over Athens gathered on Sunday afternoon to protest the recent Supreme Court decision upholding Texas’ new abortion law. The event hosted speakers from Athens Reproductive Justice Collective, Women’s Health Support and Awareness Project at the University of Georgia, Period Project at UGA, Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity at UGA, and county Commissioner Mariah Parker. 

On Sept. 1, a Texas law went into effect prohibiting abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, when cardiac activity is first detected. This ruling has been met with strong opposition around the nation as well as in Athens. 

“Through this event, we hope to gather a good community of people that are as enthusiastic about reproductive justice as we are,” Areeba Hashmi, Advocacy Chair for the Period Project at UGA, said.

Starting at the Arch, the organizers handed out masks for participants and water bottles in preparation for the march. The group was initially met with opposition from pro-life citizens holding up signs beside them with alternatives for abortion. Participants were urged by organization leaders to not engage with the counterprotestors and focus on the objective for the evening. 

“Individual arguments only escalate the situation and take away from our movement,” Tori Ragan, president of the WHSA Project, said. “So we choose not to engage.”

Ragan’s quick speech and introduction was followed by two guest speakers, Vanisha Kudumuri, co-founder and policy chair for the ARJC, and Eva Lehman, vice president of the WHSA Project, who spoke on the objectives of the event.

“We are here because this country is attacking our reproductive rights,” Kudumuri said. “These laws are not about saving lives, but about controlling bodies.” 

Lehman followed Kudumuri’s statement and explained that abortion is more than just a women’s issue. “Access to safe, legal abortions is essential to reproductive rights,” Lehman said. 

After these two speeches, the group marched through Downtown Athens towards the City Hall, where District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker spoke on her experience with abortion.

“Everybody loves somebody who has had an abortion, and I know this to be true because I am that somebody for somebody,” Parker said. “Instead of dispelling the stigma by telling our stories and complicating the issue … we stay silent. We allow people like the legislators in Texas to pretend like this is a niche problem that only affects a couple people, when it affects all of us.”

After Parker’s speech and call to action, the protestors continued on their march to the county courthouse, where they heard from Hashmi, Kudumuri and Asha Noorullah with closing remarks and action items. 

“We’re here today because, like all of you, we care deeply about reproductive justice,” Noorullah, president of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity at UGA, said. “We envision a world where all people have agency over their bodies. And the main way that we can fight these abortion barriers is by fighting abortion stigma. So I want to say thank you for joining us today and showing your support to break these walls.” 

The organizers urged protestors to join them at City Hall on Tuesday during the Athens commission’s scheduled voting meeting. There, citizens will be given a chance to speak and voice their opinions during the citizen output portion of the event.

“Just showing up on Tuesday is a very big deal to show the commissioners that we are here and that people care about this issue in Athens, Georgia,” Ragan said.