by Nathan Boddy
The intersection of Main and Hwy 93 in Hamilton was filled on Saturday, June 23rd, as a locally organized reproductive rights rally occupied the four corners for more than an hour. The event unfolded only blocks from Hamilton’s weekly farmers market, and while the latter would seem to be an expression of community cohesion, the Reproductive Rights Rally was an obvious gesture of frustration and anger on behalf of many within the Bitterroot Valley.
While the vast majority in attendance at the rally were vociferously against the Supreme Court’s recent overruling of Roe v. Wade, a handful of counter protesters stood among them, many of whom held matching signs created by Students For Life, a national pro-life organization based in Fredricksburg, Virginia. One exception was a man whose homemade cardboard sign read, incorrectly, “Montana is a Pro-life State! If you don’t like it, Leave!” In actuality, Montana still counts itself among states where abortion is legal, however, that could change if Republicans are able to push their new agenda through. Only one week prior, at the Montana GOP Platform Convention in Billings, state Republicans voted to realign their platform to support a ban against any abortions, leaving no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the woman. It was reported in a Montana Free Press article about the convention that Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton tried to add those exceptions but was unsuccessful. “There are bona fide cases where there is more than one life in play. We ought to defer to the family and to God in that case,” Bedey was quoted as saying. In the same article, Rep. Jed Hinkle of Belgrade was quoted as saying, “I do not believe the baby should be responsible for the sins of another person, for the crimes of another person.”
Multiple rally participants expressed their ongoing dedication to women’s rights, including 80-year-old Kay Rasch, who said, “I’m a great-grandmother for choice and a great-grandmother for peace. I’ve been marching since I was 19. I’ve had a long history of fighting for freedom in this country and this one is particularly important, because I remember when abortion became legal. I was marching for it then and I am still marching, for freedom for women.” Her sentiment was echoed by Jeff Knox of Corvallis, who pointed out that the 19th Amendment’s passage, giving women the right to vote, is only slightly more than 100 years old, and that, “Now here we are again trying to confirm that our vote means something. In this case, it means protecting women’s health.”
While the event, thankfully, remained free of violence, there were moments of tension and multiple participants on both sides of the ideological divide expressed hesitation to speak or even give their complete names. One area resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said that she felt conflicted about even attending the rally in spite of her strong pro-choice position.
“I am so passionate about this, but frankly it is bull****, that going might mean that I have to worry about coworkers or the people I deal with at work,” she said.
That sentiment was echoed by several others at the rally, with some questioning when the time to speak loudly against the Supreme Court’s decision might come, even if it means putting professional standing in jeopardy. Perhaps the clearest expression of this was given by another participant who declined to make a verbal comment, but instead chose to write the following comments. “I’m aware of medical providers, therapists, educators, and other professionals who serve the public and expressed their desire to be at the rally but were hesitant and chose not to attend the rally for fear of damaging their working relationships with their patients, clients, students, or their parents. It can be difficult to navigate balancing freedom of speech with possible negative repercussions, especially if it affects your livelihood.”
Natalie Naidl said that she was glad she came, despite having similar concerns. “I was afraid of the ramifications of publicly declaring ‘yes,’ I am pro-choice. I know a lot of people around here. I’ve been an active part of this community for two decades. I know for a fact I will disappoint and possibly destroy relationships by being here today, and that’s a big emotional burden to accept.” Naidl wasn’t only concerned for the impressions she might make by her presence, but her safety as well. Gesturing to the northwestern corner of the intersection, Naidl said, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed the pro-life guy mixed in with us (while) visibly packing his sidearm. With the volatility we live in today, yeah, it makes me nervous standing with my sign across the street from him. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for yourself and others. Today is that day for me.”
Warren Neyenhuis said that he was glad to see the turnout, and that he’d, “like to see people be able to talk,” rather than fall to contentious attitudes and fighting.
One such moment of talk did unfold between Robert Thomas and a young man who only identified himself as “Brad.” The two seemed to engage for some time, although Thomas said later, “Neither one of us made any headway.” For his own part, Brad only wished to quote the Bible, and say that “abortion is murder.”
As the rally began to wind down, Richard Huls held one corner largely to himself and said, “I’m not fighting people, I’m fighting a policy.” Huls, a retired pastor, also quoted the Bible to justify his stance and rejected the notion that there was ever any medical rationale for abortion.
A nearby participant who overheard Huls’ Biblical quote added loudly, “We’re all about the separation of church and state, man.”