Alaskans marched in four cities across the state Saturday to advocate for reproductive rights.
The rallies came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in late June overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade case and ending the constitutional right to an abortion.
In Homer, the afternoon march drew about 400 people and many had the same message: Abortion is health care.
“It’s so beautiful to see the turnout of people of all races and genders and expressions and identities to all stand together for the power and the choice of women to decide for themselves — and for us all as humans to decide for ourselves — what we do with our bodies,” said Talia Erisman, who moved to Homer from Las Vegas three months ago.
Erisman and the hundreds of others marched down Pioneer Avenue. Some carried signs that said “Bans Off Our Bodies” and “Say ‘No’ to Alaska’s Constitutional Convention.” They chanted: “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.”
Sandy Garity led the group through downtown, waving a large American flag. She’s with Women’s March on Homer and helped organize Saturday’s event with the Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. Turnout was huge, she said.
“I think our last march was about 150 people,” Garity said. “So this is totally exciting to see this many people come out and gather and be together.”
The marches in Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage on Saturday also saw record numbers of attendees.
In Homer, the peaceful march brought ralliers young and old — some sporting t-shirts with uteruses painted on them and others with stickers saying, “My Body, My Choice.”
Seventy-six-year-old Linda Gorman wielded a sign reading, “This is not property of the government,” with a picture of a uterus below. She said she remembers growing up pre-Roe v. Wade and fighting for reproductive rights. The fight seems worse today, she said, with the intense political divide in this country.
“I’m here because I saw this become legal in the 70s, and I’m appalled that the Supreme Court did this,” she said. “This should not be going on today.”
She said she came to the rally to support younger women and underscored the need for them to vote.
Gorman wasn’t the only person at the march with the message that people should get out and vote.
Steve McCasland was dressed as a giant pink uterus as he chanted along with the crowd. He wore a two-foot tall blonde beehive wig atop his head. Ovaries made of plastic bags swung from his sides.
“I’m a uterus. In costume,” he said, smiling. “But the moral of the story is: We’re going backwards. These old white guys, and old Black guys — and all guys — telling a woman what she can do and what she can’t do. That’s what this is all about. We’ve got to stand up and fight, or it’s going to get even worse and worse and worse. So, there you go. That’s the reason why I’m here in my uterus outfit.”
As the marchers snaked the mile to Homer’s Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love park, they weren’t met with any resistance or counter-protesters.
At the park, Claudia Haines, CEO of the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and Ginny Espenshade, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, took to the mic.
Espenshade — a lawyer — walked the audience through the legal aspects of how Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy protects reproductive choice post-Roe. She explained that while abortion is still legal in the state, she’s concerned that could change.
“Does Alaska’s express privacy right stand between us and that scenario? Perhaps,” she said. “Having an explicit right to privacy in our state constitution is better than not having one. But it is not a failsafe.”
Access to safe and legal abortions in Alaska continues because of the state’s strong right to privacy in its constitution. But abortion-rights advocates have said they’re preparing for a fight.
Even before Roe was overturned, some Alaska lawmakers tried to limit abortion access in the state. Some anti-abortion advocates are also pushing for Alaska to reopen its constitution as a path toward restricting or even banning abortions.
In November, Alaska voters will decide whether to hold a constitutional convention.
At the Homer march, Haines, who runs the family planning clinic, acknowledged advocacy must continue to ensure everyone has access to the reproductive health care they need.
Although abortion is still legal in the Alaska, she said access is difficult because of the state’s geographic barriers, inadequate funding for clinics, systemic racism, stigmatization, and lack of evidence-based information or misinformation. And, she said, more limits would impact the health of families, communities and the state.
The clinic is the only provider of comprehensive reproductive health care on the Kenai Peninsula. It offers a myriad of services, but abortion is not one of them.
Haines told those at Saturday’s event that they likely each had their own reason for attending.
“There are 400 different reasons, just like there are an infinite number of reasons that people will seek abortion care,” she said to the large crowd. “Every one of those stories – the many varied individual stories – is important. But frankly, none of our business. Let’s keep it simple: Abortion care is health care.”
A dozen members of the public also got up to share their personal stories at the open mic in the park’s gazebo.
One person shared her story about getting pregnant before Roe v. Wade was passed nearly five decades ago and crossing the border to Mexico to get an abortion.
Another shared about her ectopic pregnancy that forced her to get a complete hysterectomy to remove her uterus and baby the night before Roe was overturned just last month.