Adelaide Zwick summed up the feelings of many in the crowd gathered on the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest Saturday afternoon to protest the new abortion restrictions signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds: “This is a wake up call.”
Zwick, the president and founder of Student Advocates for Planned Parenthood, was one of the featured speakers at the rally.
“Protests like this are great, but we also need everyone to come out and fight the good fight at the capitol, contact legislators directly,” she told the crowd of more than 50. “It’s important to make your voices heard not just here in Iowa City, where most people are on our side, but also in Des Moines, where the legislature is very conservative.”
The importance of taking action was stressed repeatedly by rally organizer Ryan Hall. Hall is a UI student and an organizing fellow with NextGen America, a nonprofit seeking to increase political participation by young people. Hall worked with the Iowa City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, who started planning for the rally after the legislature passed the abortion bill on Wednesday.
The new law bans almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which typically happens around six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women even suspect they are pregnant.
Voter registration forms were available at the rally, and jars to collect donations for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic were passed among the crowd.
The Emma Goldman Clinic, a nonprofit focused on reproductive healthcare, was founded by Iowa City feminists 45 years ago, after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision, declaring that the Constitution protected a woman’s reproductive choices. The clinic was already dealing with restrictions imposed last year by the Republican-controlled state legislature, Lisa Heinemen, a member of the board of directors of the clinic, told the rally.
“Last year, the legislature passed a new law that said people on Medicaid could not take that coverage to any facility that offers abortions,” Heinemen said. “It doesn’t matter what services they were going to get — maybe they were going to get a pap smear, maybe they were going to get contraceptive services — it doesn’t matter. You can’t [go] to a clinic like Emma Goldman or Planned Parenthood, because they also provide abortions.”
“As a result of that legislation, several Planned Parenthood Clinics statewide had to close their doors. This limits [health care] access to everybody.”
Cecilia Norris, medical director of the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic (ICFMC), also spoke at the rally, talking about the impact of those restrictions the legislature has imposed on women’s health centers that offer abortion services has had on the ICFMC, which doesn’t offer those services.
“We have seen a 35 percent increase in the number of gynecology appointments,” Norris said. “We are stretched thin.”
“I want to stop abortion, too, just like I would want to stop chemotherapy,” Norris told the crowd. “I want to provide contraception, so that women don’t get pregnant. I want to provide prenatal care, so the chance of having a child with a birth defect is significantly decreased. I want to provide economic opportunity and fairness for women, so that they don’t feel that they need to give up their child or they need to have an abortion.”
But that’s not how the legislature has been approaching the issue of abortion Norris noted. Instead it has been trying to just make it impossible for a woman to access abortion-related services.
“I have counseled women for 25 years who have wound up with unplanned pregnancies or planned pregnancies that were life threatening to them or their children,” Norris said, “and I can tell you that no two are alike, and you cannot legislate what decisions those women and their doctors need to make.”
“These last nine months, I have seen a significant decrease in health care for women. That is just going to continue with our current legislature.”
Five people with anti-abortion signs stood quietly on the edge of the crowd for the duration of the rally.
“Don’t worry, we won’t force you to have an abortion,” a member yelled to the five as the rally was drawing to a close. “It should be your choice.”