‘There is joy in fighting for your freedom’: Roe advocates process fears, hopes for new reproductive rights movement in IC

People gathered on the Pentacrest to show support for reproductive rights at “Hands Off Roe” rally on Sunday, May 8, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

More than 100 people gathered on the Pentacrest on Sunday afternoon in support of reproductive rights. The “Hands Off Roe” rally was the second Pentacrest rally of the weekend in response to the leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion declaring “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” before ruling no pregnant American has the right to decide whether to carry any pregnancy to term, regardless of any circumstances, if a state government or the federal government decides they must.

Both Saturday’s and Sunday’s rallies were organized by Corridor Community Action Network (CCAN). Saturday’s event drew about twice as many people as Sunday’s.

Both rallies invited members of the community to speak about reproductive justice and related issues from the steps of the Old Capitol. Speakers ranged in age from those able to provide first-hand recollections of the days before Roe v. Wade was decided, to a 10-year-old, who thanked her parents for letting her “know what this is, because a lot of people my age do not know what this is.”

“It’s kind of hard to talk to my friends about these things,” she told the crowd. “And I feel like everyone should have the right to know.”

Multiple speakers discussed how abortion is a form of healthcare and shouldn’t be stigmatized or require extraordinary circumstances for a person to access it. Others addressed the politics of the situation, both the aggressive actions of anti-choice Republicans and the failure of Democrats to protect reproductive rights, as well as the importance of electing pro-choice candidates to the state legislature as way of defending basic rights.

“Hands Off Roe” rally on the Pentacrest, Sunday, May 6, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

The role of religion in the movement to roll back abortion rights was mentioned by several speakers. And while it’s true that conservative Catholics and many white evangelical denominations have been leading the fight against Roe for decades (although until the late ’70s/early ’80s when they became active in rightwing politics for other reasons, most white evangelical groups — including the Southern Baptist Convention — supported access to abortion), one speaker made the error of reducing all religious people to anti-choice zealots.

“I just want to share with you an issue that is not necessarily pertaining to everyone, because this is secular country with separation of church and state,” Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz said. “But an issue that does impact those of us who identify as religious in a non-Christian tradition, and of course, many pro-choice Christians grapple with the same issue, too.”

“The perspective of my faith and my tradition on abortion does not line up with this trend that we’re seeing now,” the rabbi explained.

Hugenholtz said that it was too complicated to fully lay out what Judaism has to say about “abortion and pregnancy termination… it basically boils down to that the rights of the pregnant person always supersede that of the fetus or the embryo. And so, by inclination Judaism favors a legal framework that allows people to terminate pregnancies for the wide range that might cause duress.”

Hugenholtz, a mother of three, briefly touched on her own thoughts on the possibility of choosing an abortion if her last pregnancy had encountered complications — it didn’t — before saying, “I need you to understand the moral thought process that different religious people and non-religious people need to undergo in freedom without government coercion, without the moral oversight of another religious group, for us to make decisions that are made with our sense of agency no matter where we come from in life.”

Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz speaking at the reproductive rights rally on the Pentacrest, May 8, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Some speakers referenced the Green Wave (Marea Verde in Spanish), the feminist movement in Latin America that has lead the way in establishing abortion rights in several countries in recent years as a model to follow. In February, Columbia’s version of the Supreme Court — the Constitutional Court — overturned that country’s ban on abortion, legalizing the procedure up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. There have been similar victories in Argentina and Uruguay, and abortion has been decriminalized in several states in Mexico. Chile is in the process of adding protections for abortion and reproductive rights to the new constitution it is creating.

The Green Wave is a decades-old movement that combines legal, political and social activism.

“Google all of their tactics,” one speaker told the crowd. “They have great tactics, including singing and dancing, which we don’t do enough in our movement. We need to dance and sing more. We need to make it joyful to fight for our liberation. We need to make it joyful to fight for bodily autonomy.”

“As somebody earlier said, this seems like a really hard moment. So we need to bring our own joy in it. There is joy in fighting for your freedom.”

The speeches lasted a little more than an hour, and then about 60 people carrying signs and chanting marched down the sidewalk of Clinton Street and then across the Ped Mall, before returning to the Pentacrest.

Reproductive rights supporters marching after the “Hands Off Roe” rally, May 8, 2022. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

There are other events in support of reproductive rights scheduled this week in Iowa City. They include “Banner Art for Abortion Rights” in College Green Park on Wednesday at 6:15 p.m. and a 4 p.m. rally on Saturday on the Pentacrest as part of a National Day of Protest.

There will also be a punk show with three bands at the PS1 Close House on Friday at 8 p.m. The show is free, but a donation of $5-$10 is suggested. The donation will go to Iowa Abortion Access Fund, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit that makes payments directly to clinics to partially cover costs incurred by women who would otherwise be unable to afford, or have great difficulty affording, abortion services.

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