The march begins down North Fullerton Avenue, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

By KATE ALBRIGHT and DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

In front of hundreds of women and allies at the New Jersey Women’s March for Reproductive Rights held in Montclair on Oct. 2, Montclairian Marjorie Neifeld Grayson shared her grandmother’s story who in the 1920s had to perform a self-abortion. 

“I don’t remember my grandmother who died when I was one. And I don’t recall my exact reaction to learning of this other than admiration for the strength of this woman I knew only through outside takes of her life,” Grayson said. “Of course, I never thought I would have to deal with the need for an abortion, but I certainly knew that safe, legal abortions could be necessary for all sorts of reasons.” 

Grayson said that in 1992, at the age of 40 and expecting her second child, she had to make the decision to end her pregnancy after her doctor told her the child she was expecting would not survive the pregnancy or childbirth. She was able to do so the next day at an abortion clinic in New Jersey. 

“The clinic was packed. The staff was brusk and matter of fact. There were no protestors, thank God,” Grayson said. “We will never forget the child in the next seat doing her algebra homework while she awaited her turn. No one was taking their situations lightly.” 

From left, Aidan Polofsky, August and Alex Schwarm, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
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Grayson said she was the last one leaving the clinic because she was further along in her pregnancy. After that long day, she went back home to her daughter whose hugs helped her overcome the awful day. She said she recovered, but lost two additional pregnancies. 

“I never doubted that we had done the right thing for us and I was always glad I encountered no legal or social obstacles and had compassionate, caring doctors. When our daughter was an adolescent, we told her the entire story. That is in fact, the reason I wanted to talk to you.” Grayson said. “By the time women reached 45, one in four of us will have had an abortion. Too many of us have not told our sons and daughters. And they may well mature without understanding that this is real. … I know my father did not love his mother less because he knew her story.” 

Rupande Mehta also took the stage to share her story. Mehta said at age of 17 decided to end her pregnancy after her boyfriend at the time raped her. She had her abortion in dangerous and unsanitary conditions because she was a minor without a parent present. 

Analilia Mejia, deputy director of the women’s bureau of the US Department of Labor, addresses the crowd, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

“I was berated over my actions: ‘You girls are too fast and loose. Now you see the consequences of what you’ve done,’ the female physician reprimanded me. Never mind asking me how it happened,” Mehta said. “Two years later, it happened again, another rape that led to another pregnancy and another abortion. Both those times, there was no doubt in my mind as to what I needed to do. … It’s been over two decades since that day in the crowded brightly lit room. But even now I have no doubt I did what I had to, to survive.”

Mehta said she was in an abusive relationship and lived in an insecure home despite her parent’s best intentions. But she was determined to live free and make her own choices.

“I will do what I want, not what a man wants. I will marry for love and my home will be a home of safety and harmony for my family,” Mehta said. “Today my daughter is nine. While she is an only child, I am grateful to the universe for giving me another chance at being a mother, being a wife and having a home where there is no abuse. Every fiber of my being knows I am standing here and I am alive because of those abortions.” 

At the march, township and state leadership took up the stage to share their support for more comprehensive reproductive rights for women, not only in New Jersey and Montclair, but across the nation. 

More abortion restrictions have been enacted in 2021 — 90 — than in any year since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973, according to a policy analysis by Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization “committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

Marcia Marley, president of BlueWaveNJ, a grassroots organization focusing on demanding positive change from legislators at the state and federal level, introduced the event. 

“We are demanding that these medieval laws in Texas and other states that have put abortion laws at risk across the country be struck down or changed. However, today is not just a protest with our sisters in Texas and other states,” Marley said. “We are here to insist that the New Jersey legislature protect our rights by passing a comprehensive reproductive health bill called the Reproductive Freedom Act and that will ensure that reproductive health decisions stay between patients and their doctor. And that access to reproductive care is available to all.” 

Medinah Muhammed, one of the emcees of the event said the march was an “all hands-on deck effort because we have to work together to secure the rights of women. We deserve this. This is our body and we deserve the right to decide what we want.” 

Marchers head back to the municipal building to listen to more speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

The Reproductive Freedom Act, introduced by senate majority leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, would ensure a woman’s right to abortion, assist women financially if they need an abortion and would expand access to birth control and pregnancy-related care. 

“As Marcia [Marley] noted when she started us off here this morning, we should be proud and thankful that we are in a state that has done so much to stand up for equality, to stand up for women’s rights. And that’s a great thing,” Mayor Sean Spiller said at the march. “And thankfully, Governor Murphy has done so much to keep us moving and move us further in that direction. But we also know that we can’t rest. We can’t take anything for granted. We see the makeup of the Supreme court now, and we see the dockets that they put forward.”

Governor Phil Murphy was also present at the march, and gave his support to the Reproductive Freedom Act. 

“And as much as we’re in here and we’ve got a great team spirit, the reality is incredibly sobering like right now in our country. And we have to remember that a woman’s reproductive rights in this state are entirely, as we sit here today, built on case law, which is entirely in turn built on the back of Roe v. Wade,” Murphy said at the march. “If Roe v. Wade is impaired, or God forbid taken away completely, that entire set of protections in case laws fall down like a house of cards. It is the animating, driving black-and-white must-have reason that we have to sign into law a reproductive freedom act that I promised you the minute it comes our way. It’s going to get my name signed right at the bottom of it.” 

Hundreds of people gathered in front of Montclair’s town hall to support the passing of the bill as well as give support to other women across the nation. 

Serena Lee, a 16-year-old Montclair High School student, said she felt the environment of the march was empowering, especially for the younger kids. Lee went to her first women’s march in 2017 when she was in middle school. 

“Seeing all these women who are so powerful, it’s really symbolic and empowering,” Lee said.

Danielle Guerrier from Montclair brought her two daughters to the march.

“I really wanted my girls to fully understand that they have to stand up for rights for us being women,” Guerrier said. “They’re little girls now, but I wanted them to know that you have to take a stand for certain issues. And that means getting up early, coming out, making signs and letting your voice be heard.” 

Danielle Neff, also from Montclair, attended the march with her two sons. 

The crowd listens to the speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

“We have to make noise so that people are aware that this is important and that we all carry it even if it’s not directly impacting us,” Neff said. “We feel safe in New Jersey, but that might not always be the case. So, we all need to stand up for each other and ensure that women are paid attention to and our needs and our rights are our rights and not for someone else to decide for us.”

First Lady Tammy Murphy and Gov. Phil Murphy applaud during the opening remarks at the Women’s March for reproductive rights, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL), Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Destiny David sings the national anthem, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Mayor Sean Spiller addresses the crowd, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Erin Chung represents the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Medinah Muhammed co-emcees the event, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers gather in front of the Montclair municipal building to listen to speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers gather in front of the Montclair municipal building to listen to speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers gather in front of the Montclair municipal building to listen to speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Hetty Rosenstein addresses the crowd, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Rep. Mikie Sherrill addresses the crowd, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Alixon Collazos (center) with members of the group LUPE, Latinas United for Political Empowerment, cheers during a speech, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers gather in front of the Montclair municipal building to listen to speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
The crowd marches on Bloomfield Avenue, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Marchers gather in front of the Montclair municipal building to listen to speakers, Oct. 2, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)