WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck and advocates took to the street Thursday, urging passersby to support women’s reproductive rights while prompting some tense moments with people who oppose abortion.

The activists stood at the corner of Main and Elm streets at Post Office Square downtown, holding signs bearing slogans such as “Stand With Women,” and “My Body is Nobody’s Business.”

They said women must be vigilant and keep up with issues involving reproductive rights, citing bills introduced in the state Legislature that threaten laws regarding a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Thursday’s demonstration coincided with Thursday’s Supreme Court decision striking down 35-foot protest-free zones outside Massachusetts clinics that perform abortions. The ruling holds that the buffer violates protesters’ First Amendment rights.

“The Senate and U.S. Congress will be deciding on our next Supreme Court justice and if it’s in Republican hands, abortion rights would be in jeopardy because right now it’s only a swing vote away from taking away our reproductive rights,” Heck said. “I was 21 when Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land. I’m 62. Every single year we’ve had to be fighting for our reproductive rights and now, in the 21st century, that includes access to contraception. It’s a national debate now whether contraception should be included in insurance cases.”

The demonstration drew a response from Bill Cripe, senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Free Church on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville, who said he saw the pro-abortion rights demonstration downtown Thursday as he left a doctor’s office.

He said the three signs people held displayed sentiments he has seen many times before: “My Body is my Business,” “Keep Politics Out of My Uterus” and “My Body, My Choice.”

“When your body becomes my business, costing my body money, it is no longer solely your business,” Cripe told a reporter, in response to one sign.

“Keep your uterus out of politics and all that means in the myriad legal/social/financial repercussions your uterus has on everybody else,” Cripe said. “My body, my choice — your body is your choice until your choice demands that somebody else pay for the consequences of your choices and while your body may be yours to an extent, that little body within your body is not your body.”

Heck learned about Thursday’s event from Winslow resident Mindy Bergeron-Lawrence, who last year held three 13-hour vigils and one two-hour vigil on the same spot.

She held her first one last July after Texas senator Wendy Davis, a Democrat, stood in a 13-hour filibuster to block a bill that would require more restrictive abortion rules in her state. Her filibuster delayed the bill’s passage, but it was approved in another session. Davis is now a candidate for Texas governor.

Bergeron-Lawrence, 29, said Davis was the inspiration for her own hours-long vigils.

“I’ve always been pro-choice,” Bergeron-Lawrence said. “But watching what happened in Texas last summer was a turning point for me, where I said if Wendy Davis can stand for 13 hours with such hostile opposition in a place like Texas, what are the rest of us doing? What am I doing?

“So I made up a sign and I stood right on this same corner,” she said.

Heck responded to news of the Supreme Court’s buffer zone decision by saying the no-protest zones were established to stop harassment, intimidation and violence against women who enter health clinics, sometimes for routine visits.

“Some of the women going into clinics are actually there for breast and cervical exams and not an abortion, but it makes no matter to the protesters,” Heck said. “It is infuriating that in the 21st century, we are still fighting over our right to our own bodies. I can only hope that increased police protection will be provided for those trying to access a clinic because it’s once again open season on the women seeking care.”

Alan Tibbetts, a Democratic candidate for House District 77, which includes Sidney and most of Oakland, held a sign at Thursday’s event, “Stand with Women.”

“I support women’s rights, and this is an important issue and it’s a good day to do it,” Tibbetts, of Sidney, said.

Penny Rafuse of Waterville said she saw a notice on Facebook that the vigil was going to be held. She held a sign that said “My Body is Nobody’s Business.”

“I figured if these girls can organize an event, I was going to take an hour out of my day to come down,” she said. “I’ve always been pro-choice. It’s like the sign says — it’s my body, it’s not the government’s.”

State Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, a Waterville Democrat representing Senate District 25, also was on the scene to support the demonstrators. “I think health care for women is important and I don’t think it’s anyone’s business but a woman and a doctor’s — it’s that simple,” Lachowicz said.

Seconds later, a woman in the passenger seat of a passing pickup truck cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted: “What if your parents had aborted you?”

Heck said a lot of men tooted their horns and given the demonstrators thumbs-up. Having support from men is important, because often when men fight for something, it is successful, she said.

“What people don’t understand who are anti-choice is that if you allow the government access to your body, that same government could require you to have an abortion,” she said. “So, you can be personally anti-choice — personally against having an abortion — but to allow that government to make the rules is dangerous. It happened in Romania and it happened in China. Women’s bodies belong to us, not to the government.”

Bergeron-Lawrence said she learned about the importance of women’s rights from her parents.

“For as long as I can remember, that’s just the kind of beliefs that they taught us,” she said.

It was windy and chilly Thursday on the street. Bergeron-Lawrence said she gets tired as she stands for 13 hours, but as soon as someone gives her a thumbs-up, smiles or honks, she becomes energized. When Davis did the filibuster, she was not allowed to eat or drink or go to the bathroom, so Bergeron-Lawrence said she tries to consume very little during her own vigils.

“I bought some tea because I was freezing and Karen urged me to get some,” she said. “The first time I was out here with a sign, I did have some people bring me food and water. Some girls brought me a cinnamon roll from Burger King, which was really awesome.”

This is a corrected version.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]centralmaine.com

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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