Fear, frustration and urgency were among the strong feelings expressed Friday by organizers and about 200 supporters at a Rally for Abortion Rights on the campus of Naperville’s North Central College.
“We’re one state Supreme Court seat away from having abortion taken away here in Illinois,” attorney Jennifer Franklin of Naperville said.
“People think we’re in this sanctuary. It all depends on who is in power. We have our state Supreme Court election in this case. Two judges’ seats are open. If either one goes to a Republican candidate, it will become majority Republican and they can actually (rule) that abortion would be illegal in our state.”
A series of high school and college students also took the stage to share their dismay at the US Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in June that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and opened the door for 13 states (to date) to criminalize abortion.
“That sends a message … that (women) are not supported in their right to health care. That sends a message of hate,” North Central sophomore Libby Gardner told the crowd. “To the people who condemn abortions … I say, don’t get one. You don’t have to love abortion. But you do have to care for and respect those who make the choice that is best for them.
“It is vital that we create a caring and educated community here. It is vital that we create safe havens (where) everyone here feels supported when they have to make those tough decisions,” she said.
While pro-life advocates applauded the Supreme Court vote in June because they say abortion is taking a human life, pro-choice supporters were appalled at the decision because they say women should have a right to make health care choices that affect their own body.
“I’m not old enough to join the army. I’m not old enough to get married. I’m not old enough to get my own nose pierced without my parent’s approval,” Naperville North High School student Bella Ferak said. “There is one thing I am old enough to do, though. In some states, if I get pregnant, I will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.
“It wouldn’t matter if I was raped because although I am not mature enough to buy my own lottery ticket, I am apparently mature enough to endure a pregnancy I never asked for. To be frank with all of you, that disgusts me. The thought of the rights to my own teenage body being placed in the government’s hands makes me feel a type of infuriation I’ve never felt before.”
Before the speeches, Kaytee Tyler led the group in a half-mile march along Washington Street and Jefferson Avenue, punctuated by frequent honking from drivers passing by and a series of chants she shouted through a megaphone, like “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” which marchers echoed back.
Tyler is president of the National Organization for Women Campus Action Network, a chapter she helped start at North Central College in spring 2022 when a leaked draft revealed the Supreme Court’s intention.
When Metea Valley High School student Amna Farooqi stepped on stage, she compared the US Supreme Court to Iran’s morality police, recently in the spotlight over a case that has sparked mass protests.
“Mahsa Amini was brutally murdered by the morality police in Iran after she was asked to properly wear her head scarf and did not comply,” Farooqi said.
“America likes to make an extreme distinction between themselves as a country for its freedoms and liberties, especially compared to eastern and Muslim countries. But there is no difference between what happened to Mahsa Amini and what happened over the summer through the Supreme Court’s decision. In both situations, the government decided to take away the liberties of its people to have autonomy over their own bodies.”
The student-led event was sponsored by the Naperville Allies: League of Women Voters of Naperville, Illinois NOW, AAUW Naperville and the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore, represented on stage by its director of advocacy Shoshana Frank.
“Take your energy to the ballot box and show what you believe,” Frank said to the crowd.
“My generation fought this long ago, and now it’s your turn to protect it,” Dianne McGuire, of Indivisible Naperville, told Tyler after the one-hour march and rally.
“It’s empowering. I’m impressed with all these young people,” National Council of Jewish Women member Liza Papautsky, of Willowbrook, said. She brought her 8-year-old daughter to show her it’s important that women are “making our voice heard. … On the day Roe was overturned we went to a rally. She put on her sign, ‘My Body My Choice.’ It’s intuitive to a young person.”
Young and old in the crowd applauded after Tyler declared from the stage: “Abortion is on the ballot in four different states in these midterm elections. This is why now more than ever we must keep the right to choose at the forefront of our minds as we take to the polls.”
Ferak shared the frustration of high school students not yet old enough to vote.
“Chances are, there’s a high school girl just like me right next to you. She needs your help,” Ferak told supporters. “She is watching her rights slip away before she’s even had the chance to vote for them. When you arrive at the ballot on Nov. 8, think of her. It’s infuriating to have to be silent.”
Diane Moca is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.