Thunderstorms may have been looming, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of what was reported to have been hundreds of Arkansas reproductive rights supporters who gathered at the state capitol in Little Rock on Saturday to oppose new unconstitutional abortion restrictions coming out of the state legislature this year. Speakers from the legislature and the local American Civil Liberties Union took to the capitol steps to address a crowd of determined activists angry that their state has become a testing ground for bills meant only to provoke court cases that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I asked if we might cancel because of weather,” Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rita Sklar told Rewire. “They told me people were buying umbrellas for people to write on in waterproof paint and they’d bring signs wrapped in saran wrap. This was an unstoppable crowd.”
Sklar was one of multiple speakers to address the crowd of eager activists, some oh whom came from several hours away, despite the bitter cold and impending rain. Brought together by a shared anger at the overreaching state legislature, the crowd was organized through social media, allowing them to keep up to date on the legislative processes as well as the eventual grassroots efforts to combat them. The group was eager to fight, the participants cheered so loudly when Sklar announced the ACLU’s intention to sue the state over its unconstitutional abortion bans that she had to wait for it to quiet down before she could continue her speech.
Many Arkansas media outlets continue to focus on individuals who support the extreme bills that have been passed this session, even in articles about pro-choice rallies. In one article, from ArkansasMatters.com, an abortion opponent concisely summed up what reproductive rights activists in the state are up against: a legislature in which women are seen as less important than their fetuses. “It’s really not about a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her body. We’re concerned about the baby in her body,” 40 Days for Life supporter Mary Pate told the outlet.
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Those are the beliefs that Saturday’s rally attendees are fighting against. “Saturday is not just a flash in the pan, but rather the beginning of showing up in all our numbers to guard our civil liberties,” event organizer Claudia Reynolds-LeBlanc told Rewire recently. “We are law-abiding people, and we intend to hold our legislators to that same standard. Right now our legislature is passing unconstitutional bills one after the other, with blatant disdain for the rights not only of women, but of all the people of Arkansas. People came from all over Arkansas, driving hours in thunderstorms and standing in chilling mist and rain to voice their disdain for these violations of human rights.”
The rally may be done, but for the activists it was a launching pad to winning back their rights. “Our numbers have grown since Saturday in our activism groups, and [our] plans are continuing to keep pressure on this legislature and to overthrow this tyranny with the power of the people,” said Reynolds-LeBlanc. “We are only the beginning of a massive movement seeking freedom. If I were one of those multitudes of legislators that participated in driving this vehicle against the women, children, poor, and seniors of this state, I would get off the road before the 2014 primary elections begin …. We will be fielding candidates that will legislate justice and equality for all Arkansans. This was only one day in the battle, in solidarity, and we will win the war.”
Sklar agreed. “The fact that we have a majority of legislators who support these bills has really woken these people up,” she said. “People have been woken from their complacency in thinking the battle for reproductive freedom was won. They have been galvanized by this backward legislation. There are a majority of Arkansans who believe women should decide these issues for themselves. It’s getting them together and getting them organized that needs to be our focus,” she said.
“People are not going to forget,” Sklar added. “They know how bad this makes the state look. They know what people are saying. They don’t agree with these extreme legislators, and they are not going to give up. They’ve been mobilized.”