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Amherst Rallies for Reproductive Rights

Protestors expressed “eloquent rage” in response to a leaked Supreme Court draft.

By Rebeca Pereira

On Sunday afternoon, in the sweltering May heat, a handful of toddlers sporting miniature tie-dye t-shirts and velcro Skechers dashed impatiently across UMass Amherst’s Haigis Mall, twirling picket signs nearly their height as zealous parents lathered their exposed arms and legs in sunscreen and adjusted their strappy sun hats. 

What started as a smattering of demonstrators congregated around a campus bus shelter swelled into a formidable, multi-generational protest against a conservative Supreme Court that’s poised to decimate reproductive rights in the coming days. 

Hundreds of protestors swarmed downtown Northampton during Saturday’s national Bands Off Our Bodies protest in a similar fashion, hoisting signs, raising fists, and taking to a standing microphone propped up on the steps of City Hall to demand reproductive justice. 

Across the nation, incensed demonstrators have protested in every major city, including a protest organized by Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s neighbors outside his Maryland home, and the momentum doesn’t seem to be waning. On Wednesday, students plan on walking out of Amherst-Pelham Middle School to meet with Generation Ratify organizers and elected officials on the town common. 

Rescinding Roe v. Wade and returning the power to regulate abortion access to individual states likely won’t touch Amherst residents’ right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy — the state of Massachusetts has fortified its abortion protections in recent years, enshrining access in laws like the ROE act — but it will most certainly catapult the nation as a whole backward, enabling and emboldening states like Texas and Mississippi to essentially extinguish abortion access within their borders. 

And yet, over 50 Amherst protestors, among them parents and children, college students, and grandparents who can recall firsthand fighting to codify abortion rights in their youth, marched from UMass to downtown Amherst echoing the same chant that has reverberated across the country for weeks — “we will not go back.”

Often handing her decaled bullhorn to her son, who, standing tall at three-and-a-half feet, strained to agitate the crowd as it marched the length of North and South Pleasant streets, Tiara Alanna Cooper led and organized the Rally for Reproductive Rights, a demonstration that wore many shades of activism but settled on indignation over despondency. 

“Today, I am tired, I am so very tired, but resignation plates up a consequence we can’t afford. This upset, this anger, and this disappointment and this rage, let us crystalize these feelings in action,” encouraged Cooper as supporters coalesced on campus. 

Referencing the title of Rutgers University professor Britney Cooper’s book championing black feminists, Cooper continued: “Let us be mad, let us express our eloquent rage.” 

On the mall and on the Amherst Town Common, where rally-goers converged with weekly demonstrators from the Amherst Vigil for Peace and Justice, which stakes out the downtown area every Sunday from noon to one p.m., Cooper articulated protestors’ outrage at an untraced May 2 leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s majority draft opinion undermining the constitutionality of federal abortion protections. 

A congressional effort to codify abortion, the Women’s Health Protection Act, also failed to pass in the Senate last week following the leak, with West Virginian Sen. Joe Manchin the only member of his party to defect from the Democrat-led initiative. 

The “dishonorable Justice Alito,” Cooper said in an emphatic rebuke, “has reached desperately back to the 12th century in an attempt to create a precedent of continuity [since] the middle ages, when men were fined for wearing pointy shoes. Though not yet official, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has dystopian implications for all with uteruses.” 

“To women’s stories of Drano and of hangers and of iron rods we say ‘never again.’ Banning abortions only bans safe abortions,” she said. 

Rally-goers like Lucila Carbollo, a PhD candidate in the UMass anthropology department, galvanized their loved-ones to “do something, anything that is within our reach” rather than embrace defeatism. 

Nursing her daughter Isa as we spoke, Carbollo, who is an Argentinian native, ruminated over a staggering figure: according to the country’s Ministry of Health, approximately 500,000 clandestine abortions were performed annually in Argentina before the procedure was liberalized in 2020. 

Despite the strong indication that abortion rights for Americans are headed towards dissolution, Carbollo said she reserves hope for a desperately-needed expansion of family planning services in Massachusetts and that she looks to the triumph of reproductive rights in her home country for reassurance of that possibility. 

“It was a big struggle in my country, the struggle for abortion, so I do not take it for granted. Abortion is a public health issue, period,” she said. “I want my child to know that it’s important to support one another regardless of what you want to do with your uterus. It’s very important to show solidarity.” 

Also a graduate student in the UMass Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department, Carbollo drew attention to the lack of postpartum health care and child care available to many low-income or working women, and how economic constraints present challenges to carrying a pregnancy to term. Carbollo aspires to work with pregnant people of all backgrounds and become a full-spectrum doula, a healthcare provider that accompanies pregnant people through gestation regardless of the outcome: birth, stillbirth, miscarriage, or voluntary abortion.

“We live in a system that encourages only one side of reproduction, which is having healthy and nice babies, but not the other spectrum of possibilities that comes with being pregnant,” she said.  

“I started my PhD pregnant, and I have to say that, on the one hand, the healthcare on campus is good, but I don’t think that graduate support on campus has enough support for mothers. There is a daycare, but you practically have to enroll the moment you conceive, and it is expensive,” Carbollo continued. “Raising a child is not feasible for every person.” 

Melissa Trombley Cressotti of West Springfield, a class of 2013 UMass alumna, learned that much during her time in college. Cressotti served in the U.S. Army National Guard during nine years, interrupting her bachelors degree to serve in Iraq for two semesters. 

“I’ve lived in Western Mass my whole life, I went through West Springfield public schools, this is my home. Yesterday, I was in Northampton protesting, now I’m here, where I was almost a decade ago. Not having to worry about inconsistent periods or an unwanted pregnancy — that allowed me to take better care of myself and be a better soldier despite the army’s lack of support for reproductive health in combat zones,” Cressotti said.

Unwilling to risk a pregnancy in a warzone, Cressotti pre-filled her birth control prescription at University Health Services, and on Sunday Cressotti celebrated the trajectory UHS continues to chart in near direct contradiction to the Supreme Court’s restriction of abortion access. 

In January, UMass UHS administrators announced their intention to become the first public university in the country to provide the abortion pill as a reproductive health service. Currently, clinicians can refer patients to local abortion providers, including the Springfield Planned Parenthood, but soon Mifepristone, the two-step, self-administered abortion pill, could be as accessible to students on campus as a COVID test.  

Cressotti, who volunteers at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, continued: “I had a very positive experience with reproductive care at UMass. Everyone deserves to care for their bodies as they see fit.”

Rebeca Pereira is a journalism student at UMass Amherst. Her work has appeared in the Dorchester Reporter, WBUR, and other publications.

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