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Staying Alive

‘I Can’t Afford to Give Up Hope’: NYC Enters the Post-Roe Era

"We have to imagine a better future for everyone."

(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

Every corner of Washington Square Park was packed with protesters, who spilled out into the streets to stand up against the 6-3 Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wadethe 1973 ruling that had been critical to protecting abortion rights in the U.S.

The crowd of thousands buzzed with chants of "Fuck Clarence Thomas" and "Abort the Court" on the humid Friday night as the sun set over Greenwich Village. A subway car from Crown Heights into Manhattan was packed as if it were rush hour, some already holding protest signs to join others at the park, shoulder to shoulder surrounding the Washington Square Park Arch.

(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)
(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

Some groups splintered off to march—a few hundred southbound while thousands more headed north towards Union Square, where other groups gathered. Police presence was minimal. A handful of cops stood by to watch marchers head north, and a group of Parks Department officers watched the packed crowd from afar in Washington Square.

Everyone I talked with was angry, sad, and frustrated. One woman was too overwhelmed with emotion to speak about how she felt about the ruling. Others in attendance told me that being in community with others helped—and that taking some kind of action was necessary.

(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)
(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

One protester—Flushing resident Carmen Espinal—told me she moved from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. nearly eight years ago. "When I came to this country, I came to a free country. I came to a country that I can be whatever I want, that I can do with my body whatever I need to do," she said.

"Now I see that I'm in the wrong country," Espinal, 50, said. As a grandmother and a mother, she wants her kids to have the freedom of choice—to do and be whatever they want. "This is betrayal from what we stand for, supposedly. I feel sad and angry."

The Supreme Court overturned Roe on Friday morning nearly two months after a leaked draft opinion indicated it would overturn it while weighing a separate abortion rights case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The ruling now threatens other protections regarding bodily autonomy and LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage. Without Roe, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute—a reality expected to worsen maternal health and cause abortion patients to travel across state borders later in pregnancy to access the health procedure where it will remain legal.

(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)
(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

A 20-year-old Bed-Stuy resident and model, Veronica Wolfgang, said that having access to reproductive health care saved their life as a teenager.

"The reason that I am able to live independently and have my life today is because I had safe access to reproductive health care," they said. "And knowing that 17-year-old [me], if that was today, I would be screwed. I wouldn't have a life anymore. That really hit me hard at work today."

Wolfgang, who is non-binary, is mentally preparing for a reality with fewer LGBTQ rights after Dobbs. "This is an issue of trans rights and everyone's rights right now—it's not simply women's rights."

(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)
(Scott Heins / Hell Gate)

"This is just the first thing. This is a queer issue," they said. "Because this sets the precedent that you can take away a right just like that, and that's really upsetting."

Being forced to give birth, they said, is like "hell," and "that's not a hell that anyone should have to consider."

Standing atop a bench in the park holding a sign that read "Stand With Black Women," Raeven Mataya, 23, said that she found out about the decision in the bathroom at work.

The Harlem resident "immediately started crying a little bit in the bathroom."

"The entire day, I couldn't focus on work at all," Mataya said. "I was obviously very upset, very scared, very angry, confused, but not a little bit surprised at all." Mataya, who is Black and from Louisiana, was thinking about her community back home, where abortion is now banned after today's Supreme Court decision and procedures were already being cancelled.

"This decision is going to disproportionately affect Black women, brown women—[and] people with uteruses in general—low-income folks, queer folks, especially who don't have access to certain states," Mataya said.

Being around other people, Mataya explained, brought a sense of solidarity and community and inspiration. "Hopefully we can work through some things together to figure out what the fuck we need to do to get our shit together, and then get the rights that we all deserve," she said, adding those conversations have to include and start with Black women, who've been fighting for reproductive justice for decades.

Still, Mataya maintains hope, not because it's easy or simple, but because she doesn't have any other choice. "I can't afford to give up hope...We have to imagine a better future for everyone."

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