A barricade around Monument Terrace divided two groups seeming to share little but passion Monday evening.
On one side of Church Street, a group of some 200 pro-abortion activists sung, chanted and spoke to protest the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Across the fences, a smaller group of anti-abortion activists and Campbell County Militia members voiced their opposition to the abortion-rights gathering.
The abortion-rights crowd cheered after speaker Donna StClair told them, “Every woman here is now a second-class citizen. And I did not join the United States Army to be a second-class citizen.”
Risë Hayes shared a former evangelical perspective that was echoed by many other abortion-rights speakers.
“I know the Scriptures. I’ve been taught the taglines that we’re supposed to tell people. I’ve been raised pro-life,” she said in an interview, explaining she noticed inconsistencies in the text.
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“So they want to preach that God loves all life, but God has never, not the God of the Old Testament or the new, has represented loving all life. It’s a contradictory text.”
Hayes told the crowd she is autistic and part of a group anti-abortion activists have “no problem getting rid of.”
“They want to say they’re pro-life. They’re pro-white,” Hayes said.
Hayes said she would never want to be in a position where she could not have an abortion if she needed it and, “I would never want to be in the position where I can’t support those who do. Because I don’t know anyone’s position, I don’t know how they got there.”
Mariah Milena spoke at the rally on behalf of Lynchburg Food Not Bombs, which she described as an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and abolitionist mutual aid group. Twice per week, her group meets at Miller Park to distribute a hot meal, clothes, hygiene products and birth control to those in need.
“We’re really just trying to build solidarity in the community because people are not going to care about issues like poverty, abortion — they’re not going to vote if their material needs are not met. You’re not worried about voting if you don’t have a place to sleep,” Milena said.
“This is something that affects all of us. With Roe being overturned, everything could be next.”
She told the crowd to not only vote but organize in their community to make change happen.
Lynchburg police maintained the barrier between groups for the two-hour protest, and the opposing sides only interacted verbally.
A speaker on the anti-abortion side’s mention of the abortion-rights slogan, “my body, my choice,” made abortion-rights protesters across the barrier take up the chant.
Campbell County Militia founder Wes Gardner handled the microphone for a majority of the group’s counter-protest.
“I don’t see how you can sit here and talk to me about sins when your hands are dripping in red,” he said toward the crowd on the other side.
“I want you to be able to live as long as it’s not affecting anyone else’s life. But this flies in the face of that. These women are wanting to live the way they want to live, but the problem is … you don’t get to absolve yourself of the consequences by killing the child that you’re carrying,” Gardner said in an interview.
Militia member Eric Routon called himself an “oddball in the bunch” because he wasn’t protesting for religious reasons.
“I’m a libertarian, I believe in the Constitution. All this Roe v. Wade rollback does is put the authority back where it was originally supposed to be, with the states.”
He said he was at Monument Terrace to support the Constitution and the right to life, referencing the Constitution’s preamble: “If you read the preamble of it, there’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The right to life is the very first thing.”
Corey Thomas spoke into the anti-abortion microphone holding her child: “You can do all the research you want to. You should look for information. You should question the narratives you’re seeing on social media. You should ask people who have experience with these issues instead of assuming what they think and what they want.”