Anchorage

‘I’m angry. I’m terrified. And I’m determined’: Crowds turn out for reproductive rights rallies around Alaska

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

Two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court stripped federal protections for abortion access, giving that power to states, thousands of Alaskans turned out at rallies in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Homer this weekend to demand continued protections and access to abortion in the state.

“Make no mistake: Abortion is still safe and legal in Alaska,” said Rose O’Hara-Jolley, president of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Alaska, speaking onstage at Saturday’s event in Anchorage.

But many feel that that right is fragile. Nearly half of all states have banned or planned to block access to abortion, and two paths toward changing Alaska’s constitution are being pursued by abortion opponents and could eventually result in restrictions or prohibitions in the state.

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

On Saturday, a crowd of hundreds that O’Hara-Jolley estimated had grown to over 3,000 throughout the afternoon, gathered on the Delaney Park Strip near downtown. They waved signs with sayings such as “Keep your bible off my body,” “Didn’t my grandma already fight this fight” and “You wanted handmaidens but you unleashed a warrior” while passing cars honked in support. A small group of counterprotesters in favor of denying abortion access stood on the fringe of the crowd.

Millie Taylor, who stood with her husband and mother-in-law holding signs that her 16-year-old daughter helped write, said she decided to participate in the rally because she had to go to Planned Parenthood when she was 15 to get an abortion. Despite her upbringing in an anti-abortion household, it was the right choice because she and her partner “just weren’t ready,” Taylor said.

“My home life was terrible. I didn’t know where my next meal would be. And the thought of bringing a child into that life was more than I could handle,” she said.

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

“My cousin came with me. And I cried, it was so hard making that choice,” she said. “But by being able to make that choice, when (my husband and I) finally decided 10 years later that we were ready to have a baby — our daughter has never known hunger. She’s always had a roof over her head. I try to stay out of politics. But we need to be able make the choice that’s best for us. It was a hard choice, but it was better for me.”

[Abortion access in Alaska: What current regulations are, how many are performed and who the average patient is]

Jac Reed, also a mother, stood nearby carrying a sign that said “I do not regret my abortion.”

Reed described having to drive 2 1/2 hours to her nearest clinic, from New Mexico to Texas, to get an abortion years ago.

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

“And now I have to worry about (my child’s) future and what this might mean for them going forward and their access to health care, and what if something happens to them? So that’s why I’m here,” Reed said, adding that if abortion were to become illegal in Alaska, they would consider leaving the state.

“I’m angry. I’m terrified. And I’m determined,” Reed said. “Because while I don’t know if we can do anything on a national level, we have a chance here in Alaska to at least protect what we have now. And it’s really important that everybody knows to vote ‘no’ on the constitutional convention, because if we open it up, we will not have access to abortion.”

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

In Alaska, the right to an abortion continues to be protected under the state constitution’s privacy clause and several Alaska Supreme Court rulings.

But in November, Alaskans will vote on whether to call a constitutional convention, which could pave the way for a yearslong process to alter the state constitution in a way that allows for a statewide abortion ban.

A constitutional amendment proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy represents a different path toward potentially accomplishing the same end result.

O’Hara-Jolley estimated that about 2,000 people attended the rally in Fairbanks, 400 in Homer and 200 in Juneau. Other abortion rights rallies were also held elsewhere in the state.

Pro-choice protesters march down Pioneer Avenue in Homer

Cheryl Shroyer, originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, said she went to Saturday’s rally in Anchorage because she believed abortion was life-saving health care.

Her mom was a registered nurse who used to ride the rally bus from Planned Parenthood organizations to Washington, D.C., pre-Roe, Shroyer said.

“She worked in the ER, and she treated the women that came in and bled to death. And a lot of them, the ones that did survive, were so maimed. The way she saw it, there will always be abortions. There will always be coat hangers. It was all about health care, and being safe. And it’s 57 years later. I’m an old lady. And we’re doing this again,” she said.

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

Carrie Binder, who attended the Anchorage rally with three generations of her family — wife, grandmother, granddaughter — said that “as a mom, the idea that my child is going to grow up with fewer rights than I had, that’s scary. And sad. And very angering all at the same time.”

Binder’s voice swelled with emotion when she spoke.

“We want our voices to be heard, that this is not OK. That they can’t take away rights that we already have,” she said.

downtown Anchorage, abortion access, abortion rights, rally, protest

Dawn Hansen remembered attending an abortion rally in Minnesota in the 1970s, when she was 12 years old, before Roe v. Wade.

“In the ‘70s, it was a whole lot different,” she said, reflecting on that earlier activism. “It was certainly not this low-key and quiet. But it was very energizing. Because it was my future that I was fighting for.”

[Murkowski reflects on Supreme Court votes, with abortion a key issue in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race]

Hansen said she spent most of her life thinking the right to abortion was a fragile one that could be lost one day.

“It’s always just that one little vote between us and going back in time. But I’m really pissed that I’m actually seeing it,” she said.

Sabrina Hoops said she was hopeful by the turnout she saw at this and other recent protests.

“All of these people here, all that I’ve seen in the streets — I’ve seen all of these men, women, allies out there in the streets — I just want everyone to, again, keep that same energy show up when it comes time to vote,” she said.

“I’m sad and I’m frustrated. But I’m also invigorated,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Jac Reed, who said that Alaska has a chance — not a team — to protect current abortion rights. This story has also been updated to reflect that Reed has one child, not two.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman covers health care for the Anchorage Daily News. She's a fellow with Report for America, and is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A veteran of AmeriCorps and Vista volunteer programs, she's previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in the Bay Area.

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