Abortion rights advocates held a rally in Rochester’s downtown Peace Plaza Wednesday, calling for a political mobilization defending a woman’s right to choose an abortion at a time when that right is under threat like never before.
“This is an important time in American history,” said Dr. Beth Elliott, a pro-choice advocate and one of the speakers. “I am the face of pro-choice America. That’s not good enough anymore. Even more importantly, we need to be the voice of pro-choice America.”
The rally in Rochester, which drew more than 100 people, was timed to coincide with similar demonstrations in cities across the U.S. The message: The time of complacency is over. A return to a time before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to choose, would mean a return to back-alley abortions and represent for women a loss of control over their own bodies.
The rallies come as eight states have passed bills to limit abortions this year. Missouri was the latest state to pass a so-called fetal heartbeat bill that effectively prohibits abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy.
Earlier this month, Alabama legislators voted to ban abortions in nearly all cases. The law mandates a lifetime prison term for a physician found guilty of providing an abortion.
Bills restricting access to the procedure have also been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature this session.
These challenges to Roe v. Wade are occurring after the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year, an event that abortion opponents see as tilting the balance of the court in their favor.
“This is not a drill or coincidence. What’s going on is an attempt to ban abortion outright,” said Vicki VanDeCreek, Planned Parenthood’s education and outreach manager for southeast Minnesota. “It’s not just an attack in Alabama or Georgia or Missouri. This is an attack on everyone in our nation who can or might get pregnant.”
Wednesday’s rally at the Peace Plaza was a political call-to-arms and a sign-waving spectacle. Women and some men held up signs that said, “Trust Women,” “Don’t Take Away Our Care,” and “Childbearing should be a choice, not a sentence.”
One pro-choice advocate pointed out that polls show a majority of people supporting a woman’s right to choose, but that pro-life advocates have been more committed and organized about achieving their goal of repealing Roe v. Wade.
Organizers of the rallies included the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Pro-Choice America. More than 400 events were planned on Tuesday for a national day of action, under the “StoptheBans” hashtag.
Dr. Ariela Marshall, a physician, said the heartbeat bills, which prohibit abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, amount to outright abortion bans, because many women don’t know they’re pregnant until after that period.
Marshall said a pregnancy is “significantly more dangerous” to a woman from a medical perspective than an abortion. When a woman gets pregnant and chooses to have a child, she accepts that risk. By removing the option for a woman to choose an abortion, they are being forced to take on risk they did not intend.
“These bills lead to excess risk for people in our state from a physical, emotional and socio-economic health standpoint,” Marshall said. “As such, they are medically and morally wrong.”
Gale Julius, an organizer who led the crowd in chants between speeches, called on the audience to “stand up” against the Rochester area’s pro-life contingent of GOP state legislators, including Reps. Duane Quam and Nels Pierson and Sens. Carla Nelson and Dave Senjem.
“To all those folks, I say, ‘you’re on notice,” Julius said. “Women are marching in 2019 and 2020 to doors and phones and the polls. Enough is enough. I won’t play the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ out.”
Monty Flinsch, a Rochester human rights advocate, told the crowd that men need to fight for women’s freedom like it was their own.
“Anything less is a complicity in an egregious violation of fundamental human rights,” Flinsch said.