‘Heartbroken and angry’: Hundreds gather in Bethlehem to rally for abortion rights

Written by on June 24, 2022

‘Heartbroken and angry’: Hundreds gather in Bethlehem to rally for abortion rights

By Tyler Pratt
June 24, 2022

Abortion rights supporters rally at Payrow Plaza in Bethlehem on June 24, 2022, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. (Photo | Tyler Pratt / WLVR)

Hundreds of Lehigh Valley residents gathered in Bethlehem on Friday evening to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Many like Gabby Delong, of Saylorsburg, had hastily-made signs defending abortion rights before showing up at Payrow Plaza.

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“I’m heartbroken and angry,” Delong said. “I keep crying every couple of minutes because I can’t believe this is actually happening,” 

Delong said she was avoiding conversations with family and friends for the moment, but has been vocal on social media. But now, she said, she was prepared to be “loud in the streets.”

“We’re going to fight for what’s right and not let this get worse,” Delong said. “It’s not just for me, it’s for my son. I’m fighting for his future children if he ever chooses to have any.”

Jillian Lewis brought her four daughters to the rally. 

“I’m angry,” Lewis said in tears. “They are losing their bodily autonomy in making decisions for themselves.”

Her 16-year-old daughter, Jessimin Heater-Colon, said she planned to “fight like hell.”

“I shouldn’t have to be worried that I can’t get safe legal abortions if ever need to,” Heater-Colon said.

The protest capped a day of emotions on both sides of the abortion issue. Abortion rights opponents hailed the Supreme Court ruling that struck down what had been nearly 50 years of federal law.

“The past half century has consisted of dark days of human and judicial error that manipulated the Constitution to allow humans to play the role of the Creator and the arbiter of who deserves to live,” said Bishop Alfred A. Schlert, leader of about 250,000 Catholics in the five-county Diocese of Allentown.

“I commend the justices for their courageous willingness to re-examine the right to terminate a life.”

Abortion access remains legal in Pennsylvania. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed multiple abortion restriction bills sent to him by the Republican-led Legislature. Wolf has vowed to veto any more that come across his desk before his term ends in early 2023. 

But at the Bethlehem rally, Heater-Colon said she was worried about what happens after he leaves office.

“It’s really terrifying to be honest,” Heater-Colon said. 

Bethlehem Mayor William Reynolds addresses the crowd. (Photo | Christine Dempsey / WLVR)

Nearly 500 people attended the rally. Ashleigh Strange of local activist group Lehigh Valley Stands Up kicked off a series of speeches to the crowd. 

“You spent time in the bathroom at work crying today and just waiting until you could get here tonight to be with people who understand what’s at stake,” Strange said. “We just had our rights stripped away from us.”

Strange and others who spoke encouraged people to vote in the November general election.

Rev. Lindsey Altvater Clifton of the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem encouraged attendees to use the rally as a moment to “grieve.”

“We lament, we fear, we find anger and we pray,” Altvater Clifton said. “And we gather to find mutual support and encouragement so that tomorrow and every day after that we can organize and march. We can advocate and legislate. We can canvass and we can vote.” 

Bethlehem Mayor William Reynolds also spoke. He called it “a sad day.”

“We’re living in dangerous times and they are getting more dangerous every day,” Reynolds said. “When we stand here with each other, we notice the theme: voting rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights. The world is changing. America is changing. Those old guys on the Supreme Court and the old guys in America are afraid.”

Women’s March Pennsylvania organizer Shawna Knipper closed out the protest.

“To the women and to marginalized communities — we will be the leaders, we will be the fighters, we will be the ones in the streets and the ones in handcuffs,“ Knipper said to applause and cheers. “We will be ungovernable. We will be unmanageable. We will be unrelenting, and we will be unruly until this government works for all of us. We will fight back and we will win.” 

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