It was a Saturday afternoon of handmade signs and shouting as protestors gathered on the Denton square’s courthouse lawn to denounce or defend the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.
While the protest was only announced a few days earlier, it was sparked by leaked documents published by POLITICO that showed an initial majority draft from the U.S. Supreme Court planning to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The overturning of the landmark case would trigger several states, including Texas, to immediately outlaw abortion.
Shortly after the crowds first gathered, city council candidate Amber Briggle and mayoral candidate Paul Meltzer stood on the steps of the courthouse to speak to the cheering protestors through a megaphone. In her short speech to the crowd, Briggle stressed the importance of local elections and the change they can bring. Briggle also read aloud a letter from Fort Worth city council member and former state senator Wendy Davis.
“Our rights and liberties are under siege, from the Supreme Court to Denton City Hall,” Briggle said as she read the letter.
Briggle’s speech ended with cheers and applause as she began a chant of “Fired up? Ready to go!” The courthouse lawn was quickly filling up with more people, most holding signs depicting crossed-out wire clothes hangers or short phrases such as “Abort Abbott.”
After Briggle had left, other protestors took the megaphone to tell attendees to gather and organize to make future change. One protestor told the crowd even if they did not know, there were women in their lives who had gotten an abortion.
Bella Armenta, a protest organizer and president of University of North Texas College Democrats, said the protest was organized by the People’s Coalition, a local group of multiple organizations, after the SCOTUS opinion leak.
“As soon as we heard Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned, probably in June, we all got together and said, ‘We need to form something,’” Armenta said. “Not only just a rally but to give people resources.”
Armenta’s group set up a table covered with Plan B’s, condoms, pregnancy tests and Narcan for attendees to take. Less than an hour into the protest, the pregnancy tests were all gone, said Armenta.
Political science junior Kimberlee Barrington, who had gone to other local protests, said there was a surprisingly smaller college-aged turnout than expected.
“There [are] a lot more older people than I expected, which is good to see,” Barrington said. “It makes me feel a little better about the world.”
Other protests seem to have a student majority, said Barrington, but the Saturday protest was packed with all ages, some young enough to still be in strollers and holding signs their parents made before they came.
“I came out because abortion should be legal,” Barrington said. “I wanted to show support for that.”
One protestor, Pam Hulsey, a 69-year-old Denton resident, hoped the country would see people’s outrage from the threat of overturning Roe v. Wade.
“I was really hoping for a bigger turnout,” Hulsey said. “I was hoping the numbers would show that there [are] more people that are against this ruling that they’re fixing to bring down than there are for it.”
A small group of counter-protestors formed on the other side of the courthouse after the main rally started. Some pro-life attendees came together, holding identical signs and standing to face the pro-choice crowd. Others arrived separately and eventually linked up with other like-minded counter-protestors away from the main area.
Heather Hobbs, 33, and Billy Odell, 25, are both Denton county residents and pro-life protestors who came to the courthouse separately but joined together with other attendees.
“I’m out here because doctors asked me to terminate three pregnancies that I’ve had so far,” Hobbs said. “It made me realize how common of a recommendation it is.”
Since then, Hobbs said she has worked to find resources for pregnant women to try to help prevent them from terminating their pregnancies. The assistance Hobbs hopes to provide pregnant women includes paying for their bills, baby supplies or groceries to support them before and after they give birth. Hobbs, who is currently pregnant with her fifth child, said she is currently paying a woman’s phone bill in North Carolina.
“[Pregnant women] don’t think there [are] resources out there but there are and we’re willing and ready to come in and help them and support them,” Odell said.
Other pro-life protestors stood directly in front of the main group, standing and holding up rosaries or signs saying “40 days for life.”
“I didn’t think there was going to be any pro-life presence here,” said Noah Wyckoff, a 22-year-old university graduate. “I was just going to walk around the square while the protest was happening and pray rosary.”
The rest of the afternoon saw chanting and cheering from the pro-choice protestors. “F—k Greg Abbott,” “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” or “Pro-life is a lie, you don’t care if Texans die” were repeated several times, all led by a protestor with a megaphone.
The protest winded down after two hours, ending around 2:00 p.m. Some attendees who stayed behind stood holding their signs facing the road, cheering when cars honked or stuck a thumbs-up out of the car windows in response.
Featured Image: Protesters stand and hold signs in front of the Denton courthouse on May 7, 2022. Photo by John Anderson