Tri-county citizens and organizers protest Roe v. Wade reversal

Alpine residents Benny Meredith, 91, and Audrey Painter, 79, joined other tri-county citizens at the Brewster County Courthouse on Friday to protest the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Staff photo by Allegra Hobbs.

ALPINE — By Friday evening, hours after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe V. Wade and end the longstanding constitutional right to abortion, dozens of tri-county citizens had gathered on the Brewster County Courthouse lawn, touting protest signs and ready to share their grief and anger.

Among those gathered were Audrey Painter, 79, and Benny Meredith, 91, both of Alpine — the pair held matching signs, one reading “My Body,” the other reading “My Choice,” side-by-side on a courthouse lawn bench. Both were distraught by the reversal of the landmark 1973 decision.

“We thought that was final,” said Meredith. “But it was not.”

“We’ve lived a long time, and we’ve been through a lot of life, and a lot of knowing people, women, who have made big decisions,” said Painter.

The rally had come together quickly, in large part because the Big Bend Reproductive Coalition, a new grassroots organization, had been prepared to spring into action, anticipating the news. In early May, a leak of a draft decision showing the imminent reversal of Roe had prompted a gathering of locals outside the federal courthouse in Alpine. The coalition had formed since then and, by the time news of Friday’s decision broke, had already taken to distributing pamphlets with information about access to reproductive care.

The coalition’s co-founder, Lisa Kettyle, kicked off the rally with a call for a “therapeutic group scream” — “I’m going to count to three, and then we’re going to scream all our rage into the sky,” she said — and the lawn’s occupants gamely heeded the call, screaming in unison at Kettyle’s cue. 

“It is okay to be angry, it is okay to be upset, it is ok to feel lost, it is not hopeless,” said Kettye, speaking from the gazebo. “So we can be sad today, we can be angry today, your feelings are always going to be valid, but I want you to remember that we as a group together can make a difference, and make abortion accessible to West Texas.”

Kettyle reminded those gathered that the court’s reversal did not outlaw abortion outright — it delegated decision-making around abortion laws to the states. In Texas, a “trigger law” put in place by the legislature in 2021 anticipated a reversal of Roe. Now that the court’s decision is final, all abortions will become illegal in the state 30 days following the ruling; in the meantime, abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy remain legal in Texas. The ACLU has since sued the state, and a temporary restraining order against enforcement of the trigger law has taken effect.

In Far West Texas, those seeking abortions are closer than most Texans to legal abortion access due to proximity to New Mexico — there are two clinics providing the services in Las Cruces, said Kettyle, near the border of the two states. It remains legal to travel to neighboring states for the procedure.

“Right now, if you need access, you can go to a surrounding state — you can go to California, you can go to Colorado, you can go to New Mexico,” said Kettyle.

The group took to the streets of Alpine with their signs, with Kettyle leading with chants through a bullhorn. “Not the church, not the state — the people will decide their fate,” the marchers echoed.

Once they had returned to the courthouse lawn, Kettyle led the protesters in a final group scream. The group dispersed — but for the coalition, the effort to spread educational resources about existing laws and access in neighboring states throughout the region is just beginning.

The coalition is made up of about 10 to 15 active members, Kettyle told The Big Bend Sentinel, but will soon be 40 strong. The organizers have heard from over 100 interested individuals who want to offer their time and efforts, she said. “We decided that we’re going to supply as many educational materials and resources to folks as we can, so handouts about where clinics are and how to use medication legally and all that kind of stuff,” she explained in an interview.

The coalition hopes to be there for residents of the region who may otherwise feel alone, scared, and confused. “People in this area are afraid and they’re afraid to be honest about having abortions, they don’t know who else has had one so it’s hard to get support,” said Kettyle. “And we want to be there for those folks — if somebody is feeling scared or wants information or just needs somebody to be their friend, we want to be those people. We don’t want people in the Big Bend to feel afraid when they’re making such a huge decision for themselves.”