As many as 1,000 people gathered under gray skies in Huntsville on Sunday to protest Alabama’s new abortion ban.
Emily McClelland of Huntsville brought her young daughter to her first-ever protest. McClelland had tears as she explained why they came.
“If my daughter gets raped and pregnant, the last thing I want is for her to carry her rapist’s baby,” she said. “It’s important for her to see what we’re working against.”
McClelland’s friend Kim Xu, who also brought her daughter, agreed. “I wanted her to see me standing up for what we believe,” she said.
The “My Body, My Choice” event is one of several protests happening around the state today, in response to the abortion ban signed into law last week by Gov. Kay Ivey. The new law, which is expected to be challenged in court, is widely considered the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban.
“We are gathering because we do not support what is happening right now,” said organizer Megan Eller. “This is not the Alabama I know, and I’m mad because of how Alabama is being portrayed to the rest of the world. I refuse to be a part of that.”
The rally was originally scheduled for the Courthouse Square. After more than 1,000 responded on Facebook, it was moved to Butler Green, a city-owned park between Campus 805 and Yellowhammer Brewing.
Huntsville police told AL.com they estimated 800-1,000 people attended the Huntsville event.
About 30 anti-abortion protesters gathered in one corner of the Butler Green field and remained mostly quiet until after the rally, when they were approached by about 40 pro-abortion protesters.
Chants and arguments broke out between the two sides. Police stood between them, keeping them separate.
During the rally the anti-abortion protesters said little and kept themselves separate. Ben Winslett, pastor of Flint River Primitive Baptist Church, said he came by himself but stood with the other anti-abortion protesters in solidarity.
“I believe in the sanctity of human life,” he said. “I love these people. I believe abortion is a holocaust.”
The idea for the rally began last Wednesday, after Gov. Kay Ivey signed what’s widely considered as the nation’s most restrictive ban on abortions. Two Huntsville friends debated going to a pro-abortion protest rally in Montgomery that weekend.
Megan Eller and Kristine Mears were angry about the law and wanted to do something.
“Then one of us said, ‘Why not have one here?” said Eller. When they posted a Facebook event encouraging anyone who wanted to meet at the Madison County Courthouse, “We assumed we might get 100 or 200 people, mostly our Facebook friends.
“The next morning I had over 1,000 responses,” said Eller. “We called each other and said, ‘I guess we’re going to do this.’”
Local organizations including the ACLU stepped in to help, she said. As the Facebook RSVP list ballooned past 1,000, they contacted the Huntsville Police Department and the city.
The city of Huntsville requires that rallies or protests on public property obtain a permit, a process that can take 10 days for approval. Otherwise, protests are still legal but can’t block the streets, among other restrictions. Organizers didn’t want to get shut down and decided the courthouse square was too small of a space. They also learned that nearby Big Spring Park had already been reserved for an event.
“We learned Butler Green was available,” said Eller. “It logistically made sense, because on the Green, we could all be together.”
Eller said some of the businesses surrounding Butler Green have received angry phone calls from people who thought, incorrectly, that the businesses were sponsoring the event.
Politicians and activists
Speakers at the rally included Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, activists, politicians and a rape survivor.
“This issue isn’t going away until you make your voices heard,” Daniels told the crowd. “A man has no right telling a woman what to do with her body.”
Jackie McGill of Huntsville was the only rape survivor who spoke at the rally. She later said she’d never spoken publicly about the rape, but chose to speak before hundreds because “It’s all I’ve thought about since the vote happened.
“I just want to make somebody understand there’s another side to this.”
Most attendees said they were simply there in solidarity with others in opposition to the abortion ban.
“We believe every woman has a right to choose, and we want our voices to be heard,” said Olivia Schroeder of Huntsville, who brought her 14-year-old daughter.
Michael Coffey and Catherine Byrd of Huntsville brought their young son.
“I don’t think people realize how many women this has happened to,” said Byrd. “Everybody knows somebody who’s had to deal with abortion.”