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Across WNC, reproductive rights supporters take to the streets

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Cory Vaillancourt
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About 150 protesters marched through downtown Sylva on Sunday.

Across Western North Carolina, protesters took to the streets in response to the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to overturn the federal right to an abortion.

In Sylva, the local chapter of the Women’s March organization gathered about 150 supporters of reproductive rights. BPR was at the march.

Supporters first gathered in Bridge Park in downtown Sylva to share and take part in a guided meditation.

One woman went on stage with a sign painted with a uterus that read “Don’t Tread On Me.” Nadine Grant says she remembers fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment over 50 years ago.

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Cory Vaillancourt
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One protester's sign reads, "Don't tread on me."

“It’s a basic right that you can take care of what is inside your own body. I think we really need to work on the idea of separation of church and state,” said Grant.

Megan Newton is a student at WCU from South Carolina. She says she will be changing her residency to North Carolina since her governor said he plans to effectively ban abortions.

“I cannot feel safe until everyone with a uterus in America feels safe,” said Newton.

Neighboring states Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia plan to effectively ban abortion. Abortion is still legal in Virginia up to the third trimester.

Folks from nearby Franklin and Waynesville also spoke at the event. Angela Norman said she grew up in Sylva and she didn’t believe in the right to an abortion until this year but her mind has changed.

“I have had a ton of opinions on abortion in the past that were wrong. And I just wanted to thank you all for loving me through that and opening my eyes to a new way of thinking,” said Norman.

Melissa Ward drove about 30-minutes away to the rally from Franklin. She says she was raised by a single mom and is tired of having to look over her shoulder as a woman.

“From as early as I can remember being cat-called at the age of nine. So, I have a lot of anger now that Roe v. Wade was turned over because it feels like we are always being told to shut up about who we are and to just sit still and be quiet. And it makes me so happy to just see all of the people and especially the men in the crowd who are supporting us today,” said Ward.

Al Platt, the Democratic candidate for 119th district for the NC House drove from Transylvania County to the event.

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Cory Vaillancourt
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Al Platt is the Democratic candidate for NC House 119th District.

“You see what the legislatures in neighboring states has done and what the legislature in this state is beginning to do,” said Platt addressing the crowd.

Platt is running against Republican Representative Mike Clampitt.

Clampitt was one of 21 sponsors of a Jan 2021 so-called “heartbeat” bill that would ban abortion after around 6 weeks. Western North Carolina Representatives Karl Gillespie and Mark Pless were also sponsors of the bill. The bill was referred to committee. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not recognize a fetus until 9 weeks.

“These are matters that live in the hearts and minds of individual women. They should be participated in by the people that the women want there: their spouses, doctors, spiritual advisors, politicians don’t belong there the government doesn’t belong there,” said Platt.

Right now, the Republicans lack a super majority to pass an abortion ban but the margin is skinny, says Platt. The Republican party needs two seats in the state Senate and three seats in the state House to get a super majority that would allow the party to pass any legislation without the threat of a veto from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.

“So there’s never been a more important time to vote for candidates for the rights of women to choose,” said Platt.

The 119th district where Platt is on the ballot has traditionally been a swing district. Clampitt and Democrat Joe Sam Queen have been back-and-forth winners for the last five elections. Because of redistricting, Haywood County was removed from the district taking Queen out of the running. The district now includes Transylvania County instead.

After sharing, the group marched around downtown Sylva chanting: “This is what democracy looks like,” “My body, my choice” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the patriarchy has got to go.”

Tucker McGrew is one of the organizers of the march. He volunteers with the Western North Carolina Women’s Circle a local chapter of the national Women’s March organization. He couldn’t believe that Roe had been overturned on Friday.

“It was like, oh I need to open the article because it’s probably clickbait. It’s probably not actually that...’ Then it was,” said McGrew.

He became involved with the Western North Carolina Women’s Circle in 2021 after Texas passed its abortion ban.

McGrew said it was inspiring to see so many people show up.

“It’s nice to remember that just because we’re out here, we’re not destined to be this stereotypical small town like we can still be powerful and meaningful and relevant in these conversations,” said McGrew.

More marches are planned across the region in the coming days.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.