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New Yorkers rally to make abortion rights a key midterm election issue

J.D. Allen
Protesters rallying for the right to an abortion in Port Jefferson, New York.

Paula Plotkin lives up the block from this busy street corner in Port Jefferson, New York. She holds a sign that reads: “Bans Off My Body.”

“You have no right to tell me how I'm going to take care of my body and what I need to do that,” Plotkin said.

She joined about 200 people over the weekend to protest a Supreme Court decision on Friday, which overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortions nationwide. At least 13 states have triggered laws in place to restrict, ban and criminalize the procedure — half of states are expected to control the procedure.

Demonstrations were also planned for outside courthouses in Mineola and Riverhead on Long Island, as well as across the country.

As they wave their signs and chant — “My body, my choice” — encouraging cars passing by to honk in support of reproductive justice, organizers called for ousting lawmakers who oppose abortion rights at the ballot box during the midterm elections this November.

“The only way that New Yorkers, and people from elsewhere around the country… The only way that change is going to be done, I believe, is that we do have to let our elected officials know. And we have to get the elected officials in who agree with our beliefs,” Plotkin said.

Virginia Capon also criticized the nation’s highest court, comparing gun rights to reproductive rights.

"I think the bias is towards protection of gun rights, and not protection of women's rights. And women have been treated like second class citizens,” she said.

A day before the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling Friday, the Supreme Court struck down a New York gun law restricting concealed carry, which allows for more guns in public places.

“They made one decision with regard to gun laws in New York stripping the state of the authority to control guns. And a day later, they said the federal government is going to control women's bodies,” said Capon, who is an attorney. “ You can't have it both ways.”

Capon hopes that Americans elect members of Congress this November who will support restoring 50 years of progress to reproductive justice and gun control.

That means electing people who want to end the filibuster rule that’s responsible for delaying legislation that protects reproductive health care, enshrine Roe v. Wade into federal law, and add four more justices onto the Supreme Court, bringing the bench to 13 to reflect the number of U.S. circuit court districts, according to Shoshana Hershkowitz, with the advocacy groups Suffolk County Progressives and Citizen Action of New York.

J.D. Allen
Protesters rally for abortion rights in Port Jefferson, New York.

She said she fears a court willing to disregard the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law, if uses the Dobbs ruling to repeal same-sex marriages and access to contraception — which was suggested by Justice Clarence Thomas.

“I think that we have to fight at the federal level as well as the state level because this should not be a piecemeal state by state policy,” Hershkowitz said. “It shouldn't be a red state, blue state issue. It's just the human rights issue.”

Plotkin, who volunteers for Democratic campaigns, said her goal is to flip an open seat in New York’s first Congressional District from a red seat to blue. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who praised the Supreme Court decision on Friday, hopes to challenge abortion rights supporter Governor Kathy Hochul, if they win their parties’ primary election on Tuesday.

That shows state and local elections are equally important, Hershkowitz said. In addition, Long Island’s GOP state Assembly members have voted against funding for medical clinics that provide abortion services.

Republican state senators from Long Island also backed legislation on Friday to prevent New York from using state taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions for people from other states. An influx of pregnant people is expected from states where the procedure is now illegal.

In the Northeast, where abortions are legal, Planned Parenthood has said its medical clinics have already seen an uptick in patients.

J.D. Allen
Lauren La Magna, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, speaks at a protest for abortion rights in Port Jefferson, New York.

Lauren La McMagna, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, said the restrictions to reproductive health care impact groups that have been “historically and currently experienced barriers to health care and reproductive freedom,” including low-income Indigenous and people of color, as well as non-binary and transgender people.

“Let's be honest with ourselves: White people will always have access to abortion,” La Magna said. She acknowledged that access still might not be safe.

Abortion remains legal in New York. Three years ago, lawmakers codified Roe v. Wade into state law. The governor and the state legislature have not yet approved provisions that would bring universal healthcare to New Yorkers, or enshrine reproductive health care in the state Constitution.

State Attorney General Letitia James said on Friday in response to the ruling that New York will continue to be a safe haven for the procedure.

However, Long Island — like much of America — is deeply divided on abortion rights. A pair of white teenage boys were escorted away by police after antagonizing protesters — especially demonstrator who identifies as transgender.

J.D. Allen
A Suffolk County police officer intervenes when a teenager antagonizes abortion rights protesters in Port Jefferson, New York.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.