Women’s Rally Becomes Forum For Reproductive Rights

Attendees at the Women’s March Rally/Forum for Women’s Lives. (Photo courtesy Barbara Crystal)

  TOMS RIVER – When winter weather threatened the planned outdoor Women’s March Rally for Women’s Lives on January 20, organizers quickly pivoted to an indoor location. The unexpected venue change to the Ocean County Library made room for a forum on advocacy and discussion.

  The event’s timing held just two days before the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, was no accident. Women’s advocacy groups across the country chose the date to hold similar events, highlighting the ongoing fight for reproductive rights and the enduring legacy of the landmark decision.

  In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, advocates and attendees expressed deep-seated apprehension about the future of women’s reproductive rights in America.

  Lynda Fote, president of Ocean County’s NOW chapter, helped plan the rally turned forum but couldn’t attend. Barbara Crystal and Wendy McClure, both Ocean County NOW members from southern Ocean County, underscored the broader significance of reproductive freedom in their joint organizational efforts to coordinate the event.

Attendees at the Women’s March Rally/Forum for Women’s Lives. (Photo courtesy Barbara Crystal)

  “Women’s lives are bigger than Roe,” Crystal asserted. “And the fight is bigger than abortion.”

  Amidst ongoing debates surrounding reproductive rights, New Jersey stands as a state with explicit laws granting women the autonomy to make crucial decisions regarding birth control, abortion, and prenatal care. Two years ago, Governor Phil Murphy solidified these protections by signing the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act into law.

  Nevertheless, McClure had no hesitation in pinpointing why New Jersey women should still harbor fears about the ongoing control over their bodies. Foremost among these concerns is the prospect that a nationwide abortion ban would encompass all individuals across the country. Additionally, there remains the possibility of New Jersey amending existing legislation, thereby affecting women’s rights to birth control and abortion.

  Speaking candidly to the crowd of approximately 70 people, McClure acknowledged that she had never been pregnant herself. Yet, she still felt very personally connected to the abortion debate.

  “I’m in favor of abortion,” she stated emphatically. “And I use that word as often as possible to destigmatize it because it is not a bad word. It is healthcare.”

  McClure articulated her support for women’s autonomy over their lives, saying she was fighting for the 16-year-old who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, hoping to empower her to continue her education, pursue her dreams, and choose when motherhood fits into her life. She spoke of the 10-year-old victim of rape or incest, who would be expected to carry a pregnancy against her will, despite the risks to her health and future. McClure added more to the list of women denied abortions.

  Pointing out changes throughout the country since key components of Roe v. Wade were lifted, McClure spoke of instances of women being denied life-saving care and the erosion of medical standards. She also addressed the criminalization of miscarriages and the urgent need for corrective action.

Audience members listen to questions during the program moved to the Ocean County Library. (Photo courtesy Barbara Crystal)

  When Crystal surveyed those in attendance, she started by asking people to raise their hands if they had marched in favor of reproductive rights in 2017. As she went year by year, more and more individuals admitted they’d been around to continue the fight.

  The event drew notable figures seeking to represent New Jersey at the federal level. Among them were CD2 candidates Tim Alexander and Carolyn Rush, CD4 candidate Matt Jenkins and Frances Patano, representing Congressman Andy Kim’s office. All are Democrats who spoke on behalf of women’s reproductive rights.

  Congressman Chris Smith, a Republican who represents the 4th Congressional District of New Jersey, has been a strong opponent of abortion. A year after the Dobbs decision, Smith issued a statement.

  “There is nothing humane or benign about abortion,” said Smith. “Abortion is not healthcare, unless one construes the precious life of an unborn child to analogous to a tumor to be excised or a disease to be vanquished.”

Organizer Wendy McClure speaks to the group. (Photo courtesy Barbara Crystal)

  The day before the forum at the library, Smith was a featured speaker at the National March for Life Rally in Washington, DC. He reiterated his defense for what he called the “weakest and most vulnerable.”

  As Crystal sees it, the issue continues to be far more than access to abortion. And, she has no problem in stating her perspective.

  “Anyone who is infuriated with the Dobbs decision and the reversal of Roe,” Crystal said. “Needs to remember that – and ‘Roe’ in their votes in November.” 

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at stephanienjreporter@gmail.com.