The story of why abortion access has become such a controversial issue in the United States was on full display in one rural town in western Sussex County on Saturday.
On one side of Bridgeville Highway in Seaford was a sea of protesters in bright green T-shirts, some holding signs that depicted a fetus and others pointing to specific Bible verses and chanting things like “Your mother chose life” and “God chose you.”
On the other, a group of people on the opposite side of the highway who came out to support abortion-rights.
The anti-abortion group included people like Joan Harper from Seaford who said she wanted to stand up for the life of children like her son who was born with multiple disabilities.
“He’s enriched my life in so many ways, and his life matters,” she said.
And the Mitchell Family from Dagsboro, who said they came out to support babies because “they need love, too.” Also: Jay Revels, the pastor of a nearby ministry in Laurel, who stood behind his belief – and that of roughly 40% of Americans – that abortion is considered murder according to the Bible.
Some of the people lined up on this side of the highway are members of lobbying groups like the Delaware Family Policy Council, who have protested the construction of a new Planned Parenthood across the street at Herring Run Professional Park off Route 13 for the past several weeks.
This Planned Parenthood location is a major reason why the national Women’s March — a movement that attracted crowds of activists in Washington, D.C., and across the country Saturday — made its way to western Sussex County, where wooden Trump signs are still planted in front of drying corn fields and many residents vote conservative.
But the political landscape of this town did not deter the group of people on the opposite side of the highway who came out to support access to abortion.
Melissa Froemming, president of the National Organization of Women Delaware chapter, said she was impressed by the number of people who showed up to support women’s reproductive rights — not in comparison to how many people stood on the other side of the street but to the smaller population of these western Sussex towns.
“(Often) we feel like we’re the only ones because we’re not really talking to each other because we’re afraid,” she said. “So this was a surprise even to the Women’s March – Sussex.”
Froemming was at the sister march in Wilmington that morning and said she and other members of Delaware NOW could feel the sense of community in Seaford when they arrived.
Based on registration and observations, the Women’s March supporters in Seaford hovered around 100 people, and the groups opposing abortion and Planned Parenthood reported counting about 200 people at the start of the protest.
While considerably smaller in size than the anti-abortion group, people in all age groups gathered with the Women’s March – Sussex Delaware, a chapter of a national organization that describes itself as women-led movement that actively advocates for reproduction rights and other social justice issues.
This chapter, and other Delaware grassroots organizations, joined activists across the country who were protesting the Supreme Court’s rejection of an emergency request to block the latest abortion law in Texas. Prohibiting abortion after six weeks, a time when many women do not yet know they are pregnant, this is considered the most restrictive abortion law in the nation.
The marches also come days before the Supreme Court reconvenes Monday, beginning its next term when it will likely consider the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that determined a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion and limits how much a state can regulate that access.
“They were supposed to ensure that the promise of a fair justice system was for all Americans. And they failed to show up,” said Paulette Rappa, chair of the Sussex County chapter of the Women’s March. “So we want to make sure that they understand we’re not happy with them.”
Beyond constitutional issues, Rappa said the Women’s March and other groups were there to show support for Planned Parenthood and its upcoming Seaford location.
Advocates like Rappa say a clinic in western Sussex would help expand access to health care in a part of the state facing poverty, uninsured populations and a disparate number of resources compared to the eastern half of the county. Planned Parenthood offers services including gynecological exams, health screenings and behavioral health services.
“I want to encourage women: Get your (mammograms) here. Get your pap smears here,” Rappa said. “Let them see how normal it is for a woman to go in through those doors to get quality health care.”
For other activists, such as Rebecca Payne, this was a cause close to their hearts. Payne held a sign declaring “Bans off our bodies” in one hand with her baby, Henry Colona-Payne, in her other arm.
Payne said her cousin couldn’t afford testing when she feared she might have cancer but she was able to access those resources through Planned Parenthood.
She also said a family member had had an abortion. “I am here to support her 100%,” she said.
Just down the line, Jan Poling from Ocean View pushed back on the religious argument against abortion access.
“As a Catholic, I am pro-choice,” Poling said. “It’s very important to me that anybody who needs to make that decision has the right to make that decision.”
Back across the highway, Sharon Williams of Ellendale said she can sympathize with the argument of “my body, my choice.”
“That’s how I feel about the vaccine,” she said. “So I’m sympathetic to them but, at the same time, what about the baby’s rights? I believe that life begins in the womb, and so it’s important for me to do my part — not in hate or opposition, but in love and showing them love and that there is a choice.”
As the protests continued, the reproductive rights activists formed a circle around a few speakers. Meanwhile, some of the counter-protestors drove vehicles up and down the highway with horns blaring in an attempt to drown out the voices of the speakers.
At the time, one University of Delaware student, Nabiha Syed, was speaking.
“I’m a little tired of having another aspect of my life politicized,” she said.
The response from someone in the crowd? “Wait until you’re 77.”
While this drew laughter from the crowd at the end of the afternoon, it was another reminder that this particular women’s rights issue has long been a divisive one, not just in the country but in communities across Delaware.
Natalia Alamdari contributed reporting to this report.
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at email@example.com or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.