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Denver Organizations Prepare for Life after Roe v. Wade

The possibility that Roe v. Wade could be overturned became very real – inevitable, some would say – after three conservative justices were appointed to the Supreme Court during the Trump administration. Still, seeing a leaked majority opinion draft by Justice Samuel Alito that more than likely confirms the end of Roe has been a jarring call to action for Colorado reproductive rights organizations. Now, activists are navigating the balancing act of ramping up their efforts while still finding the time to take care of themselves.

“It still was a shock to see it in writing,” said Neta Meltzer, who is the regional director of communications and marketing at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “Then the next morning I heard folks saying they woke up feeling energized and ready to continue fighting to ensure that we can serve as many people as possible.”

Since Texas passed a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in September – a timeframe during which many people don’t yet know they’re pregnant – there has been a 1000% increase in patients with a Texas zipcode seeking abortion care in Colorado. Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is already beginning to see an even bigger wave as the result of new, more restrictive bans that are taking effect.

“We just saw Oklahoma pass their total ban, and a significant portion of Texas patients were heading up to Oklahoma,” Meltzer said. “More of those ripple effects are coming our way.”

At the May 14th “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains at the Denver Capitol Building, a common sentiment expressed among the sea of handmade signs was exhausted disbelief, especially for those who are experiencing unwelcome déjà vu.

Kathy Garrett, 67, and Debbie Zalman, 64, attended their first rallies of this kind in 1973. They haven’t been to too many since, simply because they haven’t had to.

“It’s just kind of surreal. We were young in ’73 and it was an era of freedom,” Garrett said. “To see all of this get reversed is heartbreaking.”

Charissa Afshar, 63, also attended her first protest in the ‘70s, shortly after Roe v. Wade passed. She was counter protesting against those who had come out to show their opposition.

“I’m not gonna let it go down that easy. Before I leave this planet, I want to say that I was on the right side of history,” she said. “At least I tried.”

One activist who spoke passionately to the uproarious crowd was Lauren Smith, director of policy and advocacy for “a fiercely faith-based, Black women-led racial justice organization” called Soul2Soul Sisters and Elephant Circle, a non-profit that does advocacy and education on all aspects of pregnancy, from conception to lactation.

“Its name is inspired by elephants, who give birth within a circle of support. We envision a world in which all people have a circle of support for the entire perinatal period,” she said.

Smith spoke from the top of the Capitol Steps, surrounded by protestors in pink Planned Parenthood t-shirts. “As organizations for birth justice, we know that overturning Roe goes far beyond banning access to abortion. It is another attempt to strip us of our reproductive freedom and strip us of our humanity.”

According to Smith, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a step backwards, but it isn’t a drastic change for BIPOC women in this country, who already face disparities in reproductive healthcare access and quality.

“We recognize that this fight is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s been carried by generations before us. It will be carried on by our children and our grandchildren,” she said, “and that liberated world can’t exist without rest.”

Aside from voter engagement and affecting political change, Soul2Soul Sisters’ mission is to enable “Black women’s health, healing and joy,” and that requires activists to do something that doesn’t come very naturally during moments of upheaval. They must take care of themselves.

“We take naps together, we take baths, we engage in spiritual practices – we do all kinds of things to nourish our souls, not just in moments of burnout but continuously,” Smith said. “There’s so much collective and generational trauma that’s really held within the Black community, and so we have to build that in.”

According to Aurea Bolanos Perea, who is the strategic communications manager at Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), being open about the toll that this turn of events is taking on her mental health is key to staying in the fight.

“That vulnerability is powerful. Many of us are in a group chat saying like, damn, I can’t believe what I’m living right now. But I couldn’t be doing this without you,” she said. “Colorado is kind of like an island right now for repro rights and repro care.”

On April 4th, Governor Jared Polis signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which ensures that “every pregnant individual has a fundamental right to continue the pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion.” The bill also declares that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of the state.”  Colorado is now an oasis surrounded by states where abortion rights could dry up.  

From a logistical standpoint, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains plans to handle this influx by any means necessary to ensure the easiest access for the most patients. According to Metlzer, “all options are on the table,” including bringing on additional providers and expanding telehealth services. 

On a smaller scale, Meltzer says that she and her fellow staff members are making efforts to spend more time with family and pour themselves into focused activities like cooking to give their minds a break from work.

“The thing that gets me through – and I hear this from a lot of my colleagues – is just knowing that everyone who works at Planned Parenthood is there for a reason,” she said. “We know that so many folks in our community really believe in what we do, and that support means a lot in this moment too.”

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