TOMS RIVER – Nearly 200 people flooded Huddy Park as part of the nationwide Women’s March to stand up for abortion access.
The mixed crowd of men, women, and children lined the curb of the park’s entrance on East Water Street while numerous passing motorists blared their horns in support.
Lynda Fote, president of the Ocean County Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), addressed the gathering and stated that she takes the attack on women’s reproductive rights quite personally. She graduated from high school in 1964 and college in 1968.
“I spent my adolescence and my young adulthood when birth control was not easily available, particularly if you were young, single, and broke,” shared Fote. “What Roe v. Wade said to us was even if you never contemplate having an abortion, you have the right to control your own body.”
Fote said the court ruling gave women of her generation a new lease on life in showing them respect and providing them with options. However, Fote emphasized that recent changes to abortion laws in Texas and Mississippi suggest the need to look for legislative solutions from elected officials rather than appointed ones.
“Two weeks ago, the United States Congress passed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021,” Fote said. “It now goes to the Senate, where the chances of its passing are somewhere between slim and absolutely none.”
New Jersey legislators introduced the “Reproductive Freedom Act” a year ago, which Fote believed would make the state the bellwether for the rest of the country.
“It will guarantee every woman access to birth control, access to prenatal care, and if she needs it, access to an abortion,” summarized Fote. “And what insurance you have, and how much money you have, will not put a roadblock in the way.”
According to Fote, neither State Senate President Steve Sweeney nor Assembly President Craig Coughlin has pushed the bills forward to the Health Committee. She accused both Democrat leaders of getting a free ride as far as securing votes.
“They say they will protect women’s rights because as long as Roe was in action, and the New Jersey courts were supportive, they didn’t have to say the word ‘abortion,’” Fote said. “Those days are gone, and it’s time for them to step up and do their job.”
Women of all ages joined the Saturday afternoon protest, many accompanied by their daughters, sons, and husbands. The protesters carried signs with a variety of messages, ranging from coat hanger graphics to calling for men to have vasectomies.
Kyle Seiberd, 32, who teaches science in the Toms River school district, was at the demonstration with his mother, Karen Mark. The two wore shirts that read “Girls Just Wanna Do Science” and stressed the importance of women’s rights in general.
Mark, 52, said she moved from the Midwest, where she found women’s rights and their voices remained suppressed. She expressed her gratitude that things seemed different on the east coast, a sentiment her son did not want to see jeopardized.
“I would hate to see a trend where women continue to flow backward rather than forward,” said Seiberd. “I would hope that we would give women and girls like my students more opportunities rather than less opportunities – whether it is professionally or whether it is with their bodies.”
At least two sets of moms attended the rally with young school-aged daughters. Lily Graham, 12, from Forked River, accompanied her stepmother Monique Graham and shared her views.
“I think women should have their own choices,” Lily said. “It should be about their bodies and everything they do for themselves.”
Ten-year-old Emma Arancibia of Beachwood attended the rally with her mother, Kate. Emma held a sign that read “So Bad Even Introverts are Here,” which didn’t stop her from expressing her feelings.
Saying that she learned about reproductive rights at home, Emma found flaws with the concept of interfering with them. Kate added to her daughter’s comments by referring to abortion access was an important part of healthcare.
“Banning it (abortion) would first hurt rape victims,” Emma shared. “There are also people who are not financially ready for it (to carry out a pregnancy).”
Larry and Patty Bernson, a couple from Long Beach Island, came to the rally together to show their solidarity for women’s reproductive rights. Larry attended women’s rights marches with his mother before he even met his wife.
“We can’t go back,” said Patty. “I’m of an age when I remember how things used to be. A woman needs to be able to make her own choices.”
“I think what happened in Texas will probably happen elsewhere before New Jersey,” Patty continued. “But I think everybody’s at risk.”
Among the other speakers at the Saturday event was Emma Mammano, Democrat candidate for State Senate in New Jersey’s Legislative District 10. She has received an endorsement from an organization that identifies with the hashtag #VoteProChoice. Kathryn Morbit spoke on behalf of a group that calls itself New Jersey Indivisible for the Third Congressional District, which continues to support Congressman Andy Kim. Other Democrat candidates also attended the rally.
Although no counter-protesters appeared at the Toms River Women’s March, a young woman walked through the crowd and shouted out to them.
“Stuck in the matrix,” screamed the woman, as she raced away. “Murder’s not legal.”