As protests erupted across the nation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, Queens elected officials are ensuring that women’s reproductive rights and their fundamental right to choose are protected in the “World’s Borough.”
On Thursday, May 5, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, reproductive justice leaders, gender equity advocates and elected officials rallied for abortion rights on the steps of Borough Hall in Kew Gardens reiterating that abortion is health care.
“Queens will always unquestionably stand up for the reproductive rights of all people. Abortion is health care, and not only is it a fundamental human right, it is often lifesaving,” Richards said. “Overturning Roe will not save lives, it will cost lives, and we know that those impacted will be communities of color, low-income communities, young people and the LGBQTIA+ community, such a move would be just as racist and xenophobic, as it is sexist.”
On May 3, a leaked majority draft opinion written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sparked a nationwide outrage as the court plans to overturn the 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Based on the leaked documents, Republican-appointed Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett are expected to be in the majority along with Alito.
While the document is only a draft, Queens lawmakers and community leaders say they will continue to fight to protect women’s reproductive rights.
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams vowed to support people seeking care coming from other states that have banned abortion.
“It is clear that our right for reproductive health care has been under attack for quite some time now. Dozens of states have restricted laws that make it difficult for women, gender nonconforming trans or individuals with disabilities to access the reproductive care they need. Several states have already passed trigger laws that will outlaw abortion if Roe were overturned. This is part of a national effort to take away abortion rights” Adams said.
According to Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, who has received messages from constituents in her district who do not support abortion, it is important for people to “go out and fight, vote and organize,” ahead of the upcoming midterm elections in November.
Speaking on the establishment of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens and a woman’s right to choose, Merle Hoffman, founder and CEO of the abortion clinic, encouraged women to “come out of the closet” and speak up for their rights that are currently in jeopardy.
“The enemy has outposted in our head, ‘Oh, I’m a bad girl. I sinned and I had sex.’ I had my abortion when I was 32 years old and I was married and had all of the support I needed. I just didn’t want to be a mother at that time, and that’s enough. My decision is enough,” Hoffman said. “So, I say to you, please, come out of the closet and own your decisions, own your choices and have the courage to do so, because this is the great challenge of our lives.”
Members of local community organizations such as South Queens Women’s March and Jahajee Sisters in Richmond Hill encouraged people to support abortion funds and local clinics.
“This moment right now is a wake up call. It is a moment where our bodies, decisions to decide, our own future is on the line,” said Tannuja Rozario, a founding board member of South Queens Women’s March.
Felicia Singh, of the Jahajee Sisters, an organization led by Indo-Caribbean women committed to a safe and equitable society, said that bans on abortions are an “act of violence, gender-based violence, racial violence and class warfare.”
“We are here on behalf of thousands of Indo-Caribbeans who make up the second largest group in Queens. Our ancestors were colonized people and they were familiar with old white men telling them what to do with their bodies and their lives,” Singh said. “We will not insult our legacy of ancestors by sitting down and remaining silent. We are not going back.”
Cecilia Venosta-Wiygul, president of the Center for Women in New York, said they’re grateful to be in New York where they can share resources with women to help them make an informed decision over their bodies and lives.
“Many women come to us because they’re forced to do things against their will. Some are forced to stay with an abusive partner and they think they cannot get out,” Venosta-Wiygul said. “I come from Argentina, where abortion recently became legal. I don’t want to go back and I’m proud to be here. I know many immigrant families, many women of color and the LGBTQ community are at a disadvantage and this will affect them further. I want my three daughters, women and girls to continue making decisions over their body and lives.”
Forest Hills resident Julie Romero, who attended the rally with her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, said it’s important for her children to understand the normality of standing up for women’s rights.
“If we start them young it will be normal. It will be normal for my son to know that it is a woman’s choice and it will be normal for my daughter to know that no man or politician should make that decision for her when she decides,” Romero said.
Upon hearing the news of the Supreme Court’s decision, Romero said she was devastated.
“As a teenager, I was raised with if that happened, then you have choices. So to go to a life where we have to go to another country to seek decisions is backwards to me because people come to this country for those rights,” Romero said.
Holding a poster with a photo of his late grandmother, Yetta Kleinman-Schwartz, who had five children and died from an unsafe abortion, Rabbi Irwin Goldenberg said her decision affected her family for the rest of their lives, as his mother and her siblings were left without a mom.
“This is the grandmother I never knew. So, if you wonder what happens when abortion is illegal and when contraception, which is the next thing they’re going after, is illegal, this is what happens,” Goldenberg said.
According to Goldenberg, who has been involved with women’s reproductive rights for 50 years and served as president of the Planned Parenthood organization in York, Pennsylvania, he was horrified but not surprised by the Supreme Court’s vote to ban abortion.
“I’ve been fighting for this for many years and will continue to fight,” Goldberg said. “People need to vote, that is the only thing that will enable this to change — by changing those who are in power.”