By Sarah Cooke 
BELLEVILLE – A local women’s rights group is protesting the controversial anti-abortion monument in St. James Cemetery  in Belleville by painting rocks with messages of support for women’s right to choose.
Early in Nov. 2019, the Belleville Knights of Columbus  gained national attention after the group posted images of a gravestone in St. James Cemetery was dedicated to the victims of abortion went viral on social media.
The headstone says unborn lives matter and was erected on Nov. 2, which is All Souls Day in the Catholic calendar.
Reclaim Your Power Belleville,  a local women’s advocacy group has started to place painted stones with messages of support at the base of the monument as an act of protest in opposition to the anti-abortion stance.
The group promoted its actions on Facebook with its first image on Nov. 23, 2019, to their Facebook page which featured a lone stone painted red with the message: “It’s not a crime and women are not criminals.”
Since then, the two sides have gone back and forth with their messages.
Three days after the post, Facebook user Bethany Lafay posted a picture, adding a second rock. It was also painted red with a message on the stone which read: “My Body, My Choice.”
On Dec. 17, Reclaim Your Power posted that they had added more rocks.
But the Facebook page also noted that Lafay’s rock had been vandalized with the message “baby killer” scrawled across it with a black marker.
The next posts came on Dec. 21 2019, where the group noted all of the stones had been removed from the monument.
More recently, posts from Reclaim Your Power show more stones being placed unobtrusively at the foot of the monument and subsequently being removed within a day.
Belleville Chapter Knights of Columbus Grand Knight David Cameron said he knew people were removing the stones, but would not comment further.
Kara Hertendy, a member of Reclaim Your Power, is part of the rock placing campaign.
She said that the memorial is propaganda designed to foster and encourage dangerous ideology and it should be countered, not ignored.
The reason it’s important to keep placing the stones is to show support for the choices women may have to make, she said. Nobody can judge the reasons why a woman seeks an abortion, she added.
“The monument is disrespectful to the women who are the only ones who get to make a moral determination on their own choice,” she said.
Since no one is actually physically vandalizing monument, the people in charge of the cemetery say there is no problem.
Richard Beare, the secretary/treasurer for St. James Cemetery, said that he wasn’t aware that the stones broke any cemetery bylaws but emphasized that the stone is owned by the Belleville Knights of Columbus.