Abortion rights advocates rally in Iowa City as Roe hangs by a thread

Lilian (left) grabs an abortion rights T-shirt from the table. “My parents still have to wake me up in the morning to make sure I get to school on the bus. So how the hell could I carry a little child in my stomach for nine months? That’s impossible,” she said. “It’s insane. Just give me the choice. It’s just control. It’s sickening.” — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Mica Doolan is open about their abortions. Standing in front of around 60 people gathered at the Pentacrest on Saturday, all bundled in heavy coats and knitted hats, Doolan tells them about their abortion story.

“I’ve had multiple abortions. I’ve had three, actually. And I’m proud to say that I have had the right to choose them. The last one was pretty scary. We didn’t know if we could find funding for the abortion, but my partner and I also knew that we couldn’t afford a child. And that is a terrifying thing to have to go through,” they said.

They tried to order abortion pills online, using a website that only took Bitcoin, but eventually they were forced to go to Emma Goldman Clinic on North Dubuque Street, a clinic that regularly receives threats of intimidation and anti-abortion protesters.

“No one should have to be in a situation where they’re scouring the internet to find pills. We need to keep abortion safe, affordable and legal,” Doolan said.

Mica Doolan tells their abortion story at a rally for abortion rights on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Doolan is a laboratory assistant at Integrated DNA Technologies and host of the Repros for Iowa podcast. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In 2018, Mississippi passed the “Gestational Age Act” law, which prohibits abortions after 15 weeks with limited exceptions for medical emergencies or “severe fetal abnormality.”

The law never went into effect after Mississippi’s last licensed abortion facility, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, filed an immediate lawsuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit later affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Mississippi hadn’t provided medical evidence that a fetus would be viable at 15 weeks.

The court found that the Mississippi law violates previous Supreme Court rulings that have prohibited states from banning abortion before a fetus is considered viable. In Dobbs, Mississippi is asking the court to reverse the lower courts’ decision and to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This case has resulted in nationwide protests from the steps of the Supreme Court back to the Pentacrest. Doolan, host of the Repros for Iowa podcast, helped organize the rally along with Corridor Community Action Network (CCAN) and Iowa City Democratic Socialists of America (ICDSA).

“We are going to be continuing to fight for reproductive freedom no matter what happens,” Doolan said.

“Historically the most commonplace method that people have used when they haven’t been able to attain legal abortions is self-induction. And these are horror stories that you hear of people trying to fall down the stairs or ingesting poisons or using instruments like the coat hanger to induce an abortion. So it’s going to happen either way, and I hope we don’t go back to that time. That time was really scary.”

A woman holds a coat hanger that reads, “This is not a surgical instrument.” — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Doolan led the crowd in chants of “Kim says, ‘No choice!’ We say, ‘Pro-choice!’” and “Fuck Chuck and legislatures. People are not incubators!”

Sikowis Nobiss, founder of Great Plains Action Society, also spoke at the event. She argued that the abortion underscores deeper problems in American society, and that we must change the system from the ground up.

“I want to get to the fundamental issue that’s facing all of us, which really isn’t talked a lot about when we are discussing abortion rights. And that’s colonial capitalism, and that’s the white heteropatriarchy and Christianity,” she said.

“White people have power. White people have immense, immense power. Because look what’s happening. Now that abortion is affecting white people, y’all are out here right now doing this. So do more. Do better. That’s all I’m asking.”

Community members join nationwide protests across the country to advocate for the preservation of abortion rights, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. The United States Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case from Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Other speakers talked about how unwanted and unexpected pregnancies affect young teenagers who are not legally adults, how conversations of bodily autonomy overlap with transgender healthcare, and how removing access to abortions would disproportionally affect people of color, people with lower incomes and the LGBTQ+ community.

The World Health Organization has found that restricting abortion access does not limit the frequency of abortions and leads to higher numbers of unsafe abortions. Between 4.7 and 13.2 percent of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions, their research shows.

Dr. Cecilia Norris, the medical director of Iowa City Free Medical and Dental Clinic, said she is “appalled” that lawmakers are making decisions that Iowans should make with their healthcare providers.

“Banning abortion is not going to help these problems from happening in the first place. And I can just say I am so disgusted with our Republican legislature, our Republican governor, our conservative justices, who are unwilling to listen to experts about human physiology, healthcare, social issues,” she said.

Norris said she has sat in exam rooms with women whose lives were threatened by a pregnancy, women who were raped and became pregnant and women who simply were unexpectedly pregnant.

“These people [Republican lawmakers] are coming from points of ignorance. And we cannot let them be the ones making decisions,” Norris said. “Better access to contraception, better access to healthcare, better sex education that’s actually science-based in schools, childcare, living wages, that’s what makes a difference.”

A sign reads, “Who decides–You or Them? NARAL, National Abortion Rights Action League.”— Adria Carpenter/Little Village

In 2017, the Republican-led Iowa Legislature passed a bill making Planned Parenthood ineligible for family-planning funds, which led to the closure of four clinics in the state. That year it also passed a law mandating a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. In 2018, it passed a so-called “fetal heartbeat law,” and in 2020, a 24-hour waiting period law. Both the waiting periods and the fetal heartbeat law were blocked from taking effect by courts.

Last year, the Reynolds administration attempted a different tactic and briefly banned surgical abortions as non-essential services which could not be performed during the pandemic, but quickly reversed itself after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit. This year, Republicans pushed an anti-abortion amendment to the Iowa Constitution through the legislature. If it passes again in the 2023-24 session, it will be on the ballot in the 2024 general election.

But theses anti-choice efforts have not reduced the number of abortions in Iowa. The abortion rate had been decreasing, reaching its lowest point in 2018 at 2,849 abortions, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. But in 2019, there were 3,566 abortions and 4,058 in 2020.

That’s a 42 percent increase in abortions over the past two years.

“Tons of Iowans could lose access to abortion services. We’ve already seen attack after attack on abortion here in Iowa with waiting periods and heartbeat bills,” Doolan said. “This is a life and death situation. So why not keep it legal, and why not keep it safe?”

Mica Doolan addresses the crowd at the Pentacrest. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Former Cedar Rapids mayoral candidate Amara Andrews spoke about the contradiction of Republicans’ stated positions on abortion and COVID-19.

“On the one hand, our Republican friends advocate for choice when it comes to the COVID vaccine. They fight against mandates designed to protect people from the coronavirus in the name of personal choice,” Andrews said. “And then on the other hand, when we’re talking about what has traditionally been a woman’s right to choose, they want to direct us and tell us what we can do with our bodies. This is hypocrisy.”

“Let’s be clear. Policies to take away a woman’s right to choose are discriminatory,” she said.

Doolan, along with organizations in Iowa City like CCAN and ICDSA, say they will continue fighting for abortion rights no matter what the Supreme Court or the Reynolds administration decides.

“We will continue to fight and dismantle this white patriarchal system that perpetuates harm and restricts our healthcare and our bodies. Get your laws off our bodies and out of our uteruses,” they said.

Supporters gather to protest for abortion rights against the backdrop of The Congregational United Church of Christ Iowa City. — Jason Smith/Little Village