Nearly 100 people, mostly women, gathered around the William H. Seward statute downtown Monday for the localized version of the marches in support of abortion rights that took place nationwide on Saturday. Juneau’s Saturday rally was canceled due to weather and rescheduled. Several state lawmakers were invited to speak at the rally Monday evening, but were kept away by debates at the Capitol.
The protest was called in response to a recent law in Texas which not only banned abortions, but created a new and unique enforcement tool. According to the Associated Press, private citizens can sue abortion providers and anyone involved in facilitating abortions. In other situations, that would include anyone who drives a woman to a clinic to get an abortion. Under the law, anyone who successfully sues another person would be entitled to at least $10,000.
That provision created a bounty hunting system that harkened back to America’s frontier forms of justice, said Rosita Kaaháni Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, in her speech at the rally.
“We remember when abortion was illegal and when patriarchs dictated what happened to our bodies,” Worl said. “We heard the horror stories of women who obtained abortion illegally. Some bodies were ravaged to the extent they could no longer bear children.”
Worl said women in America should remember the women in Afghanistan who have recently come back under strict patriarchal rule.
Gubernatorial candidate Les Gara, a former state representative, spoke at the rally, and told the audience that there were people in the Alaska state government who were actively working to limit abortions. He referenced a 2017 incident when Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said on the floor of the House of Representatives women in rural villages intentionally become pregnant so they can use Medicaid funds for “a free trip to Seattle.”
Eastman’s remarks were condemned by a sense of the House, though several members still serving voted against that action.
“Is that health care?” Gara asked the audience, who responded with a collective, no. “Is that racist?” he asked, receiving a, yes.
Courts and justices change, Gara said, and protections for a women’s right to choose were needed at both the state and federal level. Gara criticized the records of both Gov. Mike Dunleavy and former Gov. Bill Walker on reproductive rights. Walker is again running for governor.
In January, the Dunleavy administration was ordered to restore more than $300,000 in vetoed funding to the Alaska Court System after the state was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union. The court found the governor’s veto violated the separation of powers clause, and ACLU Alaska maintains Dunleavy’s cuts were retaliation for ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health care provider that also performs abortions.
Heidi Drygas — Walker’s running mate — spoke at the rally as well, and told the audience her campaign was pro-choice. Drygas said she had recently given birth and the experience made her viscerally understand the physical, mental and economic strain pregnancy causes.
“Let me be clear: The Walker-Drygas administration will never interfere with a woman’s right to choose,” Drygas said.
Several members of the Legislature have taken a strong position against abortion and there are several bills that would ban abortion in Alaska or limit the amount of taxpayer dollars going to abortion providers.
Some residents did show up at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park on Saturday, when the rally was originally supposed to take place. One Juneau resident, Dawn Dulebohn, stood on the steps of the Capitol Saturday, and told the Empire she felt a little disappointed the event was canceled.
“It just seems like something Juneau should show out for,” Dulebohn said.
Another resident, Anastasia Tarmann, joined Dulebohn on the steps after seeing her while passing by, saying she felt compelled to join.