Day After Protection Order, Jackson Rallies for Abortion Rights

In the wake of Teton court ruling, community members voice their support for reproductive rights

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jul 29, 2022

Protesters pack the boardwalk along Broadway and brandish signs in favor of protecting access to abortion in Wyoming. (Wyoming Truth photo by Melissa Thomasma)

By Melissa Thomasma

Special to the Wyoming Truth

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — In the heart of Jackson Hole, as the summer sun blazed and thunderclouds slunk behind Snow King Mountain, nearly 250 people gathered Thursday night beneath the iconic antler arches of the town square to advocate for reproductive rights in Wyoming.

The rally, which had been planned for weeks, took on a renewed sense of momentum and passion in light of Wednesday’s court ruling: Teton County Judge Melissa Owens blocked for at least 14 days the state’s near-total abortion ban that was scheduled to go into effect on the same day.

A constellation of six plaintiffs — comprised of healthcare providers from Jackson Hole and Casper, two women of childbearing age, Lander-based nonprofit Chelsea’s Fund and Hope Healthcare services — petitioned the court to block the ban that would have made abortion illegal in Wyoming except in the case of rape, incest or if the health of the mother is at risk.  

Gwenn Wadsworth attends the abortion rights rally in Jackson Hole Thursday, carrying a sign about her own experience with an illegal abortion in 1962. (Wyoming Truth photo by Melissa Thomasma)

Rally-goers were quick to agree that the block is a temporary solution, but many said they view it as a first step toward restoring abortion rights in Wyoming.

“I was thrilled,” said Maggie Hunt, a part-time Jackson Hole resident, one of the rally’s organizers, regarding Owens’ ruling. “ . . . I think it’s going to be a long process and I look forward to moving forward. I think that we will eventually be able to show that it’s what is right.”

She added, “It’s important because abortion care is healthcare and too many women would be adversely impacted. We’re supposed to be the ‘Equality State,’ and this was going to be very unequal treatment.”

During the two-hour rally, the pro-choice  activists enthusiastically waved signs emblazoned with a variety of slogans. Many wore custom T-shirts designed by a local artist Grace Peck, featuring a bucking bronco and the slogan “Bans Off Our Bodies.” Others covered their necks with lime green bandanas — simultaneously a symbol of women’s rights and the heritage of the American West.

Jack Sparkman encourages rally attendees to hold Wyoming legislators accountable for the abortion ban. (Wyoming Truth photo by Melissa Thomasma)

Standing in the shade of the Town Square’s southwestern arch alongside her husband, Gwenn Wadsworth clutched a handwritten sign that summarized her personal experience with an illegal abortion in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1962. When Wadsworth was a junior in college, and her husband a senior, the couple’s birth control method failed and their bank account was empty. “I talked to a friend who talked to a friend, and talked to somebody who knew an abortion guy in Tijuana,” she explained. “So we went there. It was so, so scary.”

Part of what drove their decision, Wadsworth recalled, was their lack of financial resources at the time. “That’s the point; rich women never have to do that, go somewhere like that to find help,” she said. “It’s 2022. Why are we still doing this?”

Jackson Hole Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson attended the rally with her preschool-aged son and daughter, and infant daughter on her hip. “I am here to support ‘bans off our bodies,’ to support all women, people who can have children, and my family,” she said.  “I’m excited about yesterday’s ruling, and every little bit helps. At the end of the day, it’s about care and making sure we all have access to healthcare.”

Between vociferous chants of “My Body, My Choice” and “Abort the Court,” clusters of people on the sidewalk’s edge danced enthusiastically to the sounds of upbeat, feminist-themed music blaring through a large speaker, while others perched themselves on the antler arches and surrounding fences. Drivers passing by the intersection — one of the busiest in Jackson Hole — honked their horns and waved from open windows in support of reproductive rights. Each honk sent a ripple of cheers and waves through the group, reigniting their enthusiasm.

Many signs boasted short, witty quips, but Jack Sparkman’s was different. The undergraduate student from Lander proudly brandished a cardboard sign proclaiming a lengthy list of names: all the Wyoming legislators he wants to hold accountable for supporting the state’s trigger ban that would outlaw abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last month.  

 “. . . [I]n the state of Wyoming, we have, like, big names — like Liz Cheney — that kind of just like eat away at attention,” Sparkman said, “instead of focusing on every single one of these people who are cogs in a machine that has plowed over the rights of every single uterus-carrying person in the state of Wyoming. 

Sparkman believes that while voting for pro-choice legislators and encouraging constituents to contact their representatives are critical to the process, so are events like the Jackson Hole rally.

“People really get stressed out by the idea of protest,” he said. “But these are joyful bodies, dancing to music and letting people know that this isn’t a topic that they can’t bring up at the kitchen or publicly everywhere else. When we give way to taboo, we allow people to control our lives. We have to talk about abortion. We have to talk about healthcare. We have to talk about contraception, because these are natural parts of being a human being.”

Hunt, the rally organizer, agreed as she took a break from distributing T-shirts, bandanas and signs at the base of the antler arches. “I wish people understood that birth control can fail,” she said. “I know that from personal experience … A person needs to be able to access the care and not have to carry a dead baby, which does happen. The people who get late term abortions have already painted the room. They bought the baby clothes. They’ve chosen the names. They’re not deciding all of a sudden they don’t want this baby.”

Hunt paused for a moment, her eyes beginning  to swell with tears, momentarily overcome by empathy for families’ stories of heartbreak and the support of the community members who flooded the nearby boardwalks.

“We’re just trying to make sure that women who need healthcare can access it,” Hunt said. “And that the doctors who are providing that healthcare can live up to their Hippocratic oath and do what’s best for the patient without worrying about 14 years in jail.”

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