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Saturday, May 25, 2024
Human Rights

Women rally for reproductive rights as they look to the 2024 elections

Fifty-one years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to protect abortion as a fundamental constitutional right of women, but in 2022 a newly conservative bench overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving women across the country in the lurch — and with fewer rights. 

When Sarah Shtylla heard that her toddler faced a future with less rights than she had lived with for decades, she was shattered. 

“I want her to have more than we have,” she said, her voice breaking as she looked at 4-year-old Emilia, decked out in a pink knitted hat and a badge declaring “Bans Off My Body.” 

The two joined hundreds of other Arizonans on Saturday who gathered across the street from the state Capitol to commemorate the fall of Roe and call for the election of pro-choice candidates. Organized by Women’s March, the rally is a highly attended annual event that highlights gender equality. 

This year, the group chose the Grand Canyon State as its focal point in an effort to mobilize voters ahead of the November election, when an abortion initiative is expected to be on the ballot

Abortion access in Arizona has been increasingly restricted since the country’s highest court gave the power to regulate the procedure back to the states. A 2022 law currently in place bans all abortions beyond 15 weeks unless the patient is in imminent danger. And a law from 2021 that was reinstated after Roe was overturned prohibits women from seeking an abortion for the sole reason of eliminating a pregnancy because of a fetal abnormality. 

The Arizona Supreme Court is also considering whether to allow a near-total abortion ban from 1864 to go into effect, which would outlaw all abortions unless the procedure is necessary to save the woman’s life. 

A combination of new laws that narrowed access and initial legal confusion as the state grappled with which laws to enforce led to a dramatic decrease in abortions. While the rate of abortion procedures in Arizona have consistently exceeded 12,000 since 2011, the fall of Roe saw them plummet to 11,407 in 2022, the latest year for which there is data. That figure represents a steep drop from 2021, when demand resulted in a record high of 13,896.

Abortion advocates and Democrats are hoping that voter concern over that cut off access will spur voter turnout in the November election. 

A woman who attended the 2024 women's march
An attendee at the 2024 Women’s March on Jan. 20, 2024. Photo by Gloria Rebecca Gomez | Arizona Mirror
2024 women's march
2024 women's march
2024 women's march
2024 women march

Natalie Sperl, who donned a long white dress with “Keep Your Laws Off My Body” emblazoned on it that she’s been wearing to rallies since 2016, said she absolutely intends to vote in the upcoming election — and she’ll be looking to support pro-choice candidates.  

“Forced birth is female enslavement,” she said. “We have to fight for our rights.” 

Speakers at the rally charged Arizonans crowding Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza with pushing back against abortion restrictions via the ballot box. 

Prominent attorney and outspoken reproductive rights activist Gloria Allred, standing next to Melissa Mills, the daughter of Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade, told attendees to keep abortion access at the top of their candidacy checklist. 

“Elect pro-choice congresspeople, assembly members, members of the United States Senate,” she said. “I don’t care if they’re running for dog catcher, they better be pro-choice.” 

Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, pointed to the Arizona Supreme Court building just behind Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, and reminded the crowd of the threat of the revived abortion ban from 1864. 

The solution, she said, is to approve the Arizona Abortion Access Act, an initiative currently still in the signature gathering stage that would safeguard abortion as a right in the state constitution. If passed, the act would guarantee abortion access up to the point of fetal viability, generally regarded as 23 to 24 weeks of gestation, and include a protection for later term abortions if the provider determines one is necessary for the patient’s health or mental well-being.

“All eyes are on Arizona,” Hernandez said. “Let’s show the entire nation that we will take this fight to the ballot and that we will be the next state to enshrine our rights to abortion access into the state constitution, because we do not deserve to be criminalized for seeking or providing an abortion or any other reproductive right!” 

Rep. Lorena Austin, D-Mesa, added that, with federal protections at the mercy of U.S. Supreme Court’ s conservative supermajority, state legislators have become a pivotal part of protecting abortion access. The high court has agreed to hear the case on whether to roll back the FDA approval for widely used abortion pill mifepristone, effectively making it less accessible and enacting another roadblock for women seeking abortion care. 

“Because we know that federal elections are continuing to be stripped, state elections matter the most,” Austin said.

Democrats are aiming to capture a legislative majority in November that will allow them to pass laws protecting reproductive rights, among other progressive legislation, that is currently dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled legislature. Arizona Republicans currently hold a one-vote majority in each chamber that gives them the power to decide which bills to hear and which are never considered. 

With speeches concluded, attendees took to the streets around the state Capitol, waving pink “March. Vote. Win.” signs and handmade posters criticizing anti-abortion politicians. Organizers led the crowd through chants of “My body, my choice,” and “Women’s rights are human rights,” as it snaked across an entire block in one long line. 

Kimberly Kamps, who held a flag reading “End the war on women, vote Democrat” high above her head and cradled her two-year-old granddaughter close to her chest, said she joined the movement to fight on the little girl’s behalf. 

 “She should have the same rights that I had,” she said.

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