Protesters for and against abortion stake out opposite positions, opposite locations

Hundreds of people on both sides of the abortion debate gathered in downtown Raleigh on Saturday morning an hour ahead of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s expected veto of new restrictions passed by the GOP-controlled legislature.

A large crowd of abortion rights supporters filled Bicentennial Plaza, the walkway connecting the State Capitol to the General Assembly. At the same time, about 100 anti-abortion advocates from numerous local groups gathered in front of the legislative building to urge Cooper not to veto the bill through passionate speeches, group prayers and a short march to the Capitol.

Despite assurances from Republicans that successful override votes ushering the new restrictions into law would quickly follow Cooper’s decision to block the bill, the abortion rights supporters who had come to hear the governor speak and use his veto stamp were in good spirits.

Walking onto the stage to Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I”m Coming,” Cooper was fired up as well.

“Are we ready to stop this ban?” Cooper asked as cheers rang out in the crowd. “I’ll tell you what, if we have to stand up to keep fighting the battles of last century, there’s no one I’d rather have on my side than every single one of you. Because when women’s health is on the line, I will never back down, and I know you won’t either.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper displays his veto stamp after after using it and his signature to veto SB 20, legislation that would restrict abortions in North Carolina, during a public rally on the Bicentennial Mall across the State Capitol on Saturday, May 13, 2023 in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper displays his veto stamp after after using it and his signature to veto SB 20, legislation that would restrict abortions in North Carolina, during a public rally on the Bicentennial Mall across the State Capitol on Saturday, May 13, 2023 in Raleigh, N.C.

On both ends of the plaza Saturday, the mood was optimistic, with supporters of the new restrictions eagerly anticipating their enactment into state law as soon as this coming week, and opponents hoping that the bill will prove politically costly for the GOP, and help Democrats make some inroads in the legislature and retain control of the governor’s mansion in 2024.

Supporters of the bill vowed to continue their efforts against abortion.

“I’m going to assume that we’re all Christians here today. Here’s what I know. The sovereign God of the universe is a multiplier. He can take a few people standing for truth and standing for life and make a difference to the generations,” said Tonya Baker Nelson, CEO of A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center.

“We’re going to be the few today. And we’re going to be proud to stand and say that we, in North Carolina, do not need to be an abortion destination. ... Let us continue to stand for truth, even if we have to stand alone. We will stand, we will not shrink back.”

Nelson ended her six-minute speech with prayer, asking God to let the legislation pass “so that these little children can be protected.”

More speakers, including Pastor John K. Amanchukwu Sr. of Upper Room Church of God in Christ and Mark Lee Dickson of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative, gave passionate speeches that amped up the crowd.

“The cheer you hear today is not a good cheer. That’s the resounding sound of evil,” Amanchukwu said as attendees of the veto rally cheered across the street.

“On this side, we are standing for life in the womb, we are standing for babies in this state, we are standing for truth, we are standing for true biblical justice and we are standing in the seat of power. … Today, oftentimes the sheep have more courage than the shepherd, and so today we celebrate you sheep for coming down here and standing boldly for what is right.”

Following the speeches, Lydia Taylor, a Students for Life spokesperson, told the crowd through a megaphone to gather for a group photo before marching over to the State Capitol.

The crowd chanted “Let their hearts beat” and “Pro-choice is a lie, babies never choose to die” in front of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and up North Salisbury Street toward the Capitol.

There, the protesters were met by multiple Capitol Police officers, stopping them from occupying the Capitol grounds, which had already been reserved for the veto rally.

The group planned to march back to the Capitol at noon when the reservation ended, but they never did. Back at the legislative building, Catholic groups prayed rosaries and protest attendees made lunch plans.