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Waynesville rally for Roe is a sign of things to come

Demonstrators gather in support of reproductive rights, almost 50 years after Roe v. Wade was decided by a 7-2 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court. Cory Vaillancourt photos Demonstrators gather in support of reproductive rights, almost 50 years after Roe v. Wade was decided by a 7-2 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court. Cory Vaillancourt photos Cory Vaillancourt photo

As it often does, the Historic Haywood Courthouse played host to a rally on May 14 that drew about 50 people, an equal number of signs and a small contingent of counterdemonstrators. Unlike in recent years, it wasn’t a rally supporting Black Lives Matter, or law enforcement officers, or local issues like the proposed jail expansion.

Until this month, public demonstrations over the issue of abortion have been relatively rare, as the issue has been settled law for nearly half a century. 

However, a leaked draft opinion  from the U.S. Supreme Court suggesting that the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling is about to be overturned has ushered in a new era of demonstrations by reproductive rights advocates concerned about what overturning Roe would mean , and what other constitutional rights may be on SCOTUS’ chopping block. 


Stefani Potter, along with her 25-year-old daughter Leanna Beale, travelled from just past Sylva to attend the rally on a sunny Saturday morning in Waynesville.

“I started marching with my aunt in 1968 and I’ve been marching ever since,” Potter said. 

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Potter came out of concern that the 49-year-old ruling could be overturned by a Court packed with conservative justices. 

“I think in the end, it would be an absolute disaster,” she said. “It is against what the Constitution is about. This country was founded on the fact that we could come here, be good people and run our lives our way and not have religion or anyone else tell us what to do. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, we are going backwards in rights and it’s not just women’s rights — it’s rights, at this point.”

The 1973 case ensured a woman’s constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, based on a right to privacy in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Beale, who’s grown up and lived her entire life with Roe’s protections largely considered settled law, was aghast at the possibility of a future without them. 

“I’m not sure how to put it into words,” she said. “I think if men were told to regulate their bodies, it wouldn’t go over well.”

Heather Hyatt Packer organized the rally with We Are WNC, a loosely organized group in Haywood County that usually promotes left-leaning causes. Nationwide, thousands gathered at similar  “Bans off our Bodies” rallies that took place on the same day. 

“Where does it end?” Packer asked. “If we can repeal those rights, overturn the decision of Roe v. Wade, then who’s to say that gay marriage is secure? That we can’t move forward with transgender rights? I mean, it’s a very slippery slope.”

From across the street, about 100 yards from the rally, Thomas Sutton and about 10 members of a group called the Haywood Militia watched quietly. 

“I stand on the other side,” Sutton said. “I’m pro-life. I feel that abortion is murder. You’re taking the life of an innocent child. God says he knew me before I was formed in the womb, which means that I am a life from conception.”

Sutton, a Haywood County native, said his group believes in family, faith and freedom and that he doesn’t agree with Packer’s “slippery slope” theory that overturning Roe could jeopardize other rights, like LGBT marriage equality or even interracial marriage. 

“No, I do not,” he said. “One has nothing to do with the other. This is legalized murder. Gay rights or gay marriage has nothing to do with the right to live. There is a difference, and a baby has the right to live.”

The issue of abortion has always been a divisive one — morally, politically, spiritually and legally — so it would have been surprising if there wasn’t at least one disruption during the rally. 


fr roe dogs

An unidentified man, with two dogs, disrupted a reproductive rights rally on May 14 in Waynesville.


Near the conclusion of the event, a man appeared with two large dogs and walked through the center of the crowd, saying he’d come to “look at all the idiots in my town.”

Reproductive rights activists quickly summoned two officers from the Waynesville Police Department, who were stationed near the entrance to the justice center. 

As the officers made their way towards the scene, members of the crowd jeered the man as his dogs barked occasionally. Officers ushered him away, without incident, as the crowd broke into song with the 1800s spiritual, We Shall Not Be Moved. 

Although the confrontation was brief and inconsequential, Roe v. Wade hasn’t yet been overturned; there will likely be more and larger rallies both in support of and opposition to the ruling, if and when that happens. 

The opinion from the Supreme Court is expected in about two months. 

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