Dozens turn out for Riverhead rally following leak of draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

More than 50 people turned out in front of the State Supreme Court building in Riverhead Tuesday, in a show of opposition to the anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade.

Kathryn Casey Quigley, chair of the Southold Town Democrats and an organizer of the rally, said the gathering was a response to nationwide calls to gather at courthouses in protest of the draft decision that could overrule the landmark decision that has protected abortion rights across the U.S. for nearly 50 years. 

“The Southold Dems, along with millions of Americans across the country, are sickened, angry and disgusted. Women cannot be considered to have equal rights as men under this anticipated ruling, and by and large those who will suffer — and they will suffer gravely — are women of color and economically disadvantaged women,” Ms. Casey Quigley said in an email to a reporter before the event. 

“Witnessing the backsliding of progress in this country is a gut punch,” she added. “We must not be silent and all people — including the majority of the voting population of this country — women and men must stand up against this atrocious decision using their voices and their vote in November to make clear that these GOP nominated judges are taking this country backwards.”

On Monday night, Politico reported that the Supreme Court voted to overturn federal abortion rights in an initial draft majority decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, calling it a “full-throated unflinching repudiation of the 1973 decision.”

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division,” Justice Alito wrote in the draft decision. “Casey” is a reference to the 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that largely maintained abortion rights.

Lisa and Sunny Fine at Tuesday’s protest. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents on Tuesday, but emphasized that it does not represent a court decision or any member’s final position on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a suit questioning the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi abortion law. Mr. Roberts called for an investigation of the leak. 

The draft decision, if finalized, would end federal constitutional protection of abortion rights, leaving the decision up to individual states. According to a report published by the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have trigger laws that would ban all or nearly all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. New York has codified abortion rights, which means pregnant people in the state will retain abortion access if Roe is overturned. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Meera Shah of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York said in an interview that the reproductive healthcare nonprofit is not surprised the Supreme Court seems intent to overturn Roe v. Wade and has been preparing for “some time now.”

“When the final decision is released, which we anticipate is going to be consistent with the leaked decision, we’re expecting 26 states to ban abortion, which means that abortion providers in those states will no longer be able to provide abortion care,” she said, noting that clinics in states like New York may see an increase in travelers seeking abortion care. Planned Parenthood clinics in states that ban abortion care will continue to offer other legal reproductive health services. 

“When it comes to travel, the folks who are going to be able to travel are the ones with funds, with the means, with privilege. People of color and lower income people are not going to be able to travel, and therefore they will have to turn to the internet to source pills for their abortion or they’ll be forced into continuing the pregnancy,” she added.

Jeffrey Segal, a Stony Brook University political science professor, said in an interview that he thinks Roe v. Wade will “almost certainly” be overruled, likely in early summer. A decision like the draft leaked on Monday seems “inevitable,” he said.

“Justices do not make decisions based on precedent. They use precedents that they agree with to justify decisions that they want to make anyway,” he said. “And also because Donald Trump had all those vacancies to fill, and only nominated people who were vetted by the Federalist Society, which is a very conservative legal organization.”

Activist Lisa LaCorte at Tuesday’s rally. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

The decision could open the door to roll back “any case that is not bound to the text of the Constitution, including a whole series of right to privacy cases,” he said. Gay marriage “could be on the chopping block,” he said, but he thinks it’s unlikely. “I do not think that same sex marriage is in danger because of all the complications that would come from a court case undoing people’s marriages. You can’t just untie a knot.”

He suggested that Republicans may see ramifications for the decision during midterm elections this November. 

“As things stood yesterday, if you had asked me what was going to be the result of the midterm elections, I would have told you that Republicans would take control of both the House and the Senate. Today, I’m not so sure,” he said. 

The event in Riverhead on Tuesday was organized by Southold Dems, the East End Action Network and Indivisible, with speeches from local politicians Jackie Gordon (D-Copiague) and Bridget Fleming (D-Noyack), who are both running to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District, which includes the East End. 

Protesters of all ages carried pro-abortion rights signs and took turns sharing stories with a megaphone in front of the Riverhead court steps. The occasional passing car honked in support to cheers from the crowd, which grew as time wore on.

Some rally-goers pointed to statistics indicating that a majority of Americans support abortion rights and called on lawmakers to codify Roe v. Wade. They told fellow attendees to be sure they vote at the polls in November. 

“I just want to say, the first thing that people ask is, who is somebody that can comment with a story? Who can tell a story, an anecdote that will make this more real to anybody else? I myself have had two abortions and the reason why I did is none of anyone’s business,” Southampton Democrat Eileen Duffy said to applause.

Maxine Kleedorfer had her children before Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, so she feels she had “no choice one way or the other.”

“But the idea that somebody could say to me, or anybody for that matter who’s female, you can’t have an abortion. Am I telling you, you have to? No! Don’t take it away from me is all I’m saying,” she said. 

One rally-goer, Mara Zonderman, who was there with her 9-year-old son, held a “Keep abortion legal” poster she’d used in protests during the Bush administration about 20 years ago. 

“It was a Women’s March on Washington, my mom and I were there. My husband’s been agitating for me to get rid of this sign. I said, ‘I want to keep it for nostalgia.’ Here I am,” she said. 

Lisa Fine and her 9-year-old daughter Sunny came to the rally as well, to advocate for “a woman’s right to choose.” Ms. Fine said she thought this day might come over the past few years. 

“It’s actually here,” she said. “It’s very scary and I feel like we have to speak up and show up and do whatever we can.”

“Because everyone’s vote counts,” Sunny added.