Demonstrators march past 1838 Chicago on Northwestern's campus. Photo by Jack Ververis / North by Northwestern

Robyn Gavel, Illinois state representative and majority leader, took to the podium at Raymond Park on Sunday. Surrounded by pop-up tents and over a hundred pink-clad demonstrators, her message about the fight for reproductive rights was a mix of determination and frustration.

“I thought this fight was over, and now we find out that it’s not,” Gavel said in a speech. “Here we are once again.”

Déjà vu was a common sentiment during the grassroots protest organized by the Evanston Pro-Choice Committee. The second annual event hosted a wide range of speakers including U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky and lobbyist Keynette Trisha Barnes. Booths were also set up from a variety of co-sponsors, including the Chicago Abortion Fund, Indivisible and the Democratic Party of Evanston.

“Despite the insanity of this struggle, do not give up,” Evanston Pro-Choice Committee member Gretchen Brewster said in a speech.

Pro-choice advocates nationwide continue to rally more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which allowed individual U.S. states to regulate abortions. Illinois has enacted multiple laws protecting abortion rights and the number of patients in neighboring states traveling to Illinois to receive these services has surged. Earlier this year, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law protecting out-of-state residents seeking abortion care.

“Illinois is a shining beacon, not just for the work they've been doing before Dobbs, but after,” Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss said in a podium speech. He also declared October a Pro-Choice Month in Evanston.

Other speakers stressed that work isn't over yet. One attendee that echoed this sentiment was a representative from Reproductive Transparency Now, a group which aims to expose crisis pregnancy centers. The centers, which opponents say mislead and misinform those seeking reproductive health care, have come under increasing scrutiny nationwide. In May, Gov. Pritzker signed a bill outlawing deception by the so-called “fake clinics,” though the enactment was halted by a federal judge.

Event speeches were accompanied by an original poem by Sunshine Lombré, a Chicago-based poet and dancer. Lombré recited her poem,“She Just Wanted a Ride Home,” and described poetry's ability to share condensed personal narratives.

“There’s a lot of voices that need to be heard and stories that need to be heard,” Lombré said. “I try to cram it all in three minutes.”

After the rally, the group marched by the Arch and Fountain Square on a loop around Evanston.

Death threats, stalking and arson against abortion providers continues to rise, according to the National Abortion Foundation’s 2022 report. Earlier this year, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for firebombing a clinic in Peoria, Illinois.

“I don’t like bullies,” said one man who asked to remain anonymous. The man volunteers as an escort for Planned Parenthood and asked that his name not be published for the safety of those he assists.

Many attendees expressed frustration at the renewed attacks on reproductive rights. “I feel like we have to fight the battle again,” Evanston resident Alice Sachs said. “You see a lot of older people here, not a lot of younger. That’s something Gretchen [Brewster] and I are trying to change.”

According to multiple Evanston Township High School students, Brewster hosted a booth at the school’s activity fair. ETHS first-year Ariana Valevanis said  she was motivated to help after seeing the stall.

“I don’t think it’s looking too good right now,” ETHS first-year and volunteer Ariana Valevanis said of the future of reproductive rights. “But I hope it gets better, and it’s events like this that help with that.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Jack Ververis / North by Northwestern