Susan Baxter has been demonstrating about abortion rights for 51 years.
Baxter, now 70, said that recent attempts to ban abortion in the United States have been disheartening after she’s been so vocal and involved for half a century. Two emotions have stood out to her as she’s seen anti-abortion legislation sweep the country.
“Outrage,” Baxter said. “Sorrow.”
Baxter was one of more than 300 people who gathered at the Dimond Courthouse plaza across the street from the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday. The “Stop the Bans” rally was done in conjunction with many other groups across the nation to make a statement about their opposition to proposed laws that outlaw abortion.
In Alaska, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, proposed House Bill 178 recently, which would criminalize abortion. The bill can’t be heard until January 2020 because regular legislative session has ended for 2019, but the introduction of the bill has still caused a stir around the state.
Co-organizers Samantha Cox and Alyson Currey spoke first, leading the crowd in chants and giving a general overview of the situation around the country and in the state.
“Each one of you here, each one of us, has a great responsibility to speak up, to speak out and to demonstrate the kind of respect and compassion that we wish to see reflected in the laws going forward,” Cox said.
Juneau resident Cate Ross shared her story, of having an abortion when she was 20, when she felt she was unprepared to raise a child. Years later, she again got pregnant and made the decision to continue the pregnancy.
“If I had not had a choice when I was 20, I would not be where or who I am today,” Ross said. “If I did not have a choice two summers ago, I would have felt lost instead of empowered.”
There was a small group of counter-demonstrators who stood quietly outside the crowd with pro-life signs.
There was a pro-choice rally in Anchorage on Saturday. At the same time as Juneau’s rally, there was a rally in Fairbanks. Multiple legislators were at the rally in Juneau, including Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage. Spohnholz, the co-chair of the House Health and Social Services Committee, told The Associated Press last week that she will refuse to hear HB 178 next session. Spohnholz didn’t speak at the rally like some other legislators, but stood and watched from the sidewalk above.
Rep. Sara Hannan and Sen. Jesse Kiehl, two Juneau Democrats, both gave speeches that earned big ovations. Hannan reflected on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which ruled that state abortion bans are unconstitutional. She remembered being a young girl when it happened, and that her mother told her, “you have choices in this life that no women before you have ever had.”
Now, Hannan said, legislators around the country are waging a “war against women” with their proposed bans. More than a dozen states have passed legislation to ban abortions, and many others have introduced bills to do so. Alaska — which currently has a pro-life governor and attorney general, as Currey pointed out — has not been immune to this wave.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, spoke to the crowd and said that with the current makeup of the Legislature, Eastman’s bill will not get through. This is why elections matter, she said, and she encouraged those on hand to stay locked in to the goings-on at the Capitol.
Kiehl was the last of the speakers, and spoke briefly. He called Eastman’s bill a “twisted vision of government,” and tried to drive home the point that those in the Dimond Courthouse plaza Tuesday have people in the Capitol looking out for them.
“I can’t get pregnant. I want you to know, you’ve got an ally. You’ve got more than one ally, look around,” Kiehl said, gesturing at the crowd as attendees began to applaud.
His next words — “We have your back” — were lost in a thunder of cheers.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.