Protesters gather outside the federal courthouse in Springfield to support abortion access

Andrew Adams
State Journal-Register
Nanci Ridder, left, of Springfield and a member of the activist group The Resistor Sisterhood, protests with others in front of the federal courthouse in Springfield to support abortion access Tuesday May 3, 2022.

After a draft Supreme Court decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade was published Monday night, some in Springfield decided to head out and let their voices be heard.

At least 70 activists and protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Springfield on Tuesday night.  

The draft Supreme Court decision, which is not final, is the court's response to the ongoing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The court is set to hand down its final decision in the case this summer. 

The informal event featured chants, signs and impromptu speakers. Shatriya Smith was among the first to address the crowd. 

"How dare you be so slow as to help the heated blows of hurt you can't imagine to know?" said Smith, reading a poem to the crowd. 

Smith dedicated the poem "to those who don't want to hear my voice." 

Related:Illinois lawmakers react to leaked SCOTUS draft striking abortion rights, Roe v. Wade case

The event drew attendees of all ages, with some passersby in cars honking their horns, igniting the crowd in cheers and clapping.  

For some, the news of the draft decision was unwelcome and jarring. Several attendees and speakers at the event shared the experience of waking up Tuesday morning with a sense of anger, frustration or sadness. 

"This is something that could affect me personally," said Kim Riddle, a Springfield woman who attended the protest. 

Riddle said the protest was the first she had attended in several years, with the personal consequences playing a role in her wanting to attend and to spread the word. She said she hoped that people driving past the protest would be inspired to learn more about the subject. 

The topic and the makeup of the court also inspired Ritter to start to question the structure of America's highest court. 

"Do we need to rethink?" she said. "Do we need to think about impeaching these people or packing the court?" 

Jessica Loforte, left, gets a hug from Tracy Owens, a co-founder of The Resistor Sisterhood, a Springfield-based activist group, after Loforte shared her life experiences during a protest in front of the federal courthouse in Springfield supporting abortion access Tuesday.

Others were motivated to attend by a sense of patriotism. Nanci Ridder said she is "absolutely furious" and "disgusted" by the news of the leaked draft. 

"We've got to go back to being the greatest country because we're not right now," said Ridder. 

Keri Tate, one of the event's organizers, said that those interested can go to the Resistor Sisterhood Facebook page if they would like to learn more about future events. 

Not everyone on Tuesday night was as supportive of abortion access as those who chose to attend. One driver slowed their car down and shouted "baby murderers" as the event began, highlighting the deep, emotional divide between those on different sides of the issue. 

About six in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal in most if not all cases, according to polling from Pew Research Center from last year. 

"Every abortion brutally takes the life of a preborn child and puts that child’s mother at extreme risk for both emotional and physical harm," said Amy Gehrke, executive director of Illinois Right to Life.

Locally, pro-life advocates say that the possible changes to federal law won't change their plans. 

"We continue to be engaged in sidewalk advocacy, inviting pregnant women into our facility for ultrasounds," said Mary Jean Sheets, executive director of Springfield Right to Life. 

Sheets added she is cautious because the leaked memo is a draft and that Illinois has several policies making abortions easier to access at the state level. She said policy change in Illinois will only come from voters electing pro-life candidates. 

"If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, it won't change the landscape in Illinois in any positive way from our perspective," she said, adding that it may encourage women from other states to seek abortions in Illinois. 

Contact Andrew Adams: aadams1@gannett.com; 312-291-1417; twitter.com/drewjayadams.