PORTSMOUTH — Michelle Cilley Foisy shared her abortion story Saturday in front hundreds of people gathered at Prescott Park.
It began when she and her husband received tragic news 21 weeks into a pregnancy.
"Sixteen years ago we were told that Kayla only had three chambers on her heart and basically, no brain," she said. "We were forced to make a terrible decision. On Dec. 10, we held her for several hours. She was 12 inches long and weighed 14 ounces. We did impressions of her hands and feet and they hang on my wall."
Cilley Foisy, who lives in Temple, spoke during the Bans Off Our Bodies rally at Prescott Park, one of many held Saturday across the United States. The rallies were sparked by a leaked draft decision indicating the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortions legal, though the court's final decision isn't due until June.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it's likely abortion law will be set state by state, with more than 20 poised to make abortion illegal. Democrats in the U.S. Senate this week couldn't get enough votes to codify Roe v. Wade at the federal level. In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed legislation that took effect this year, banning abortion after 24 weeks gestation.
Cilley Foisy has seven children in her family, all of them very loved, she said. She cited research from the Guttmacher Institute reproductive health research group, which found 25% of women have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years.
Cilley Foisy testified in front of New Hampshire lawmakers earlier this year about her story, saying her abortion came after follow-up tests confirmed the bad news about Kayla's condition. The abortion came after 22 weeks. Her testimony was followed by lawmakers making an exception to allow abortions in New Hampshire after 24 weeks in the case of a fatal fetal anomaly. .
Cilley Foisy said after her abortion, she initially told people she had a medical termination.
"Now I say, I had an abortion," she said. "It was the right decision for myself and my family. Every person has their own reason, and the right to have autonomy over their own body. Voices are powerful and we need to use them, over and over until they hear us. No woman should ever be forced to carry a baby to term if it is not the right decision."
Speaking up for abortion rights
Organizations on hand Saturday included Planned Parenthood, the New Hampshire Women's Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Rights & Democracy, the Joan G. Lovering Health Center of Greenland and the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, along with state and federal politicians.
The lead organizer was Dover High School senior Ally Long, who said she reacted in horror when the leaked Supreme Court draft decision was reported. She decided she needed to act, recruiting organizations and speakers for the rally.
Long was one of the speakers, too.
"People ask me if they can make a difference and I say — you can," Long said. "No one is too young to make a change happen. Raise your voice. Don't sit in silence. Support each other. Educate yourself, your neighbors and each other. And vote!"
Susann and Larkin Kjellberg, mother and daughter agree. They drove from Sandwich because they wanted to stand for women's rights.
"My child here was chosen, wanted and I love her more than anything," Susan said. "But I would never want anyone to be forced to carry a child. I am for abortion rights because I love children and I want those here in the world to know they were all chosen."
"I think it's crazy that other people think they can control women," said Larkin, 16. "We are equal to any man. If men got pregnant, abortions would happen at Starbucks."
"My whole life I have been pro-choice and I am not going to stop now," said Portsmouth resident Diane Stradling, 77. "I remember life before Roe v. Wade, and we can't go back to that."
Sandy Denoncour, executive director of the Joan G. Lovering Health Center, said New Hampshire and the nation have been on a restrictive path.
"It started with the defunding of Planned Parenthood," she said. "It has been difficult to manage but we have not restricted any cases. Still, we feel the need to be active in this fight. We are small but mighty, so the best message is to vote, locally and federally, vote, vote, vote."
Politicians have their say
"We are here today because we are horrified and outraged by the leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade," Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, said. "Things are also highly concerning at the state level where we are blocking women's rights. This is an assault on women and we are not going to let them do that."
State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, who is running for governor, said he supports a woman's right to choose. He said the decision is between a family and their doctor and government has no place.
"The governor signed the abortion ban here and is clearly not pro-choice even though he tries to say he is,' Sherman said. "I am here to defend women's rights and I am a man of my word. I can be trusted to do what I say, not just to say it."
Sununu has called himself pro-choice and vowed abortions will remain legal in New Hampshire for up to 24 weeks as long as he is governor, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. He has been criticized by Democrats for signing the 24-week abortion ban and just this week reiterated his support for it during an podcast interview.
Gov. Sununu on podcast: 'I’ve done more on the pro-life issue, if you will, than anyone'
State Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth, said she lives in a house of four women, herself, her wife and two daughters.
"I do not want my daughters to have to fight for this," she said. "Two days after the leak, I put in a bill to codify Roe v. Wade in the New Hampshire Senate. It failed — by one vote."
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Bans Off Our Bodies rally at Prescott Park in Portsmouth NH