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Abortion Ban Protestors Advocate for Women’s Reproductive Health Rights on the Square

By Anna Grace Usery

Video by Talbert Toole

Having an abortion is something many southern legislators recently decided is neither a right nor a choice after passing laws that would ban most of them. In response, many Oxford locals took to the Square today in protest.

The march entitled “Stop Abortion Bans” coincided with the national march that took place at the same time in Washington, D.C.

“Reproductive rights are healthcare. Abortion rights are healthcare. Women are people, too,” said protest leader Cristen Hemmins, chair of the Lafayette County Democratic Party.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the heartbeat abortion ban (Senate Bill 2116) on March 21, which states that if a baby’s heartbeat can be detected and the pregnancy does not risk “death of the pregnant woman … substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” it is not legal. Physicians estimate heartbeats are detectable at 6 weeks.

The law also states if a physician performs an abortion when the heartbeat is present, he or she will be subject to license revocation or disciplinary action.

Hemmins and others began the rally atop the Square Books steps. The event’s original start location was to be on the steps of City Hall, but due to a scheduling error the location changed to Square Books. The bookstore was not associated with the event. 

Prior to the march, protestors stood for a moment of silence acknowledging the murder of Dominique Clayton, an Oxford mother of four. Oxford Police Department and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation confirmed today at a press conference one of their officers, Matthew Kinne, was arrested for alleged involvement in the murder.

Hooper Schultz, a recent graduate student at the University of Mississippi, marched in the protest holding a sign to advocate for justice for the recent murder of Dominique Clayton. By Talbert Toole.

Protestors proceeded to march south on South Lamar from Square Books east on University Avenue and circled around when they reached the intersection.

“When women’s reproductive rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!” they chanted.

Not all protestors were women who were there to advocate for their own health.

Charles Brewer held his position in front of Square Books with a sign that said, “It’s a choice.”

A woman slowly drove by the bookstore to ask for the reason for the protest.

“Are y’all for or against it?” she yelled out her car window.

When Brewer clarified he and the man who stood beside him, Eric Tait, were for a woman’s right to have an abortion, she flipped them the bird and yelled, “Baby killer!”

Tait and Brewer looked at each other and shook their heads.

Charles Brewer and Eric Tait stood outside Square Books prior to the protest. Photo by Talbert Toole.

“I’ve walked through this process before with a female, and it is so emotionally and physically painful that if they make a choice to do this, and they’re willing to go through that kind of pain…they should be able to do that,” Tait said.

This isn’t Hemmins’ first rodeo advocating for women’s reproductive rights, she said, and it’s an issue she takes to heart. She said she was abducted, raped and shot in 1991, and often wonders what laws like these would’ve meant for her situation if she became pregnant.

“It could have forced me to carry a child that could’ve killed me because I was shot twice and recovering from that,” she said. “You can’t legislate this thing case by case. It needs to be up to women to make their own decisions.”

“Women will die by laws like this—abortion bans at 6 weeks—pass. Women will die if doctors are criminalized. We just have to make sure the politicians in charge and the courts realize that.”

Alexa Sinha, a student at Sewanee who returned home to Oxford for summer break, said she attended the rally because she’s scared Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned.

“I want everyone in the U.S. and the Supreme Court to see we still support it,” she said. “Abortion is fundamental to women’s rights and human rights. If abortions become illegal, abortions are not going to stop. They’re just going to be unsafe and women will die.”

Talbert Toole, lifestyles editor, contributed to this story.

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