Several thousand people, along with most of the state’s leading elected officials, marched in opposition to abortion Sunday at the 38th Annual March for Life at the state Capitol.
The marchers wound behind the Capitol and then gathered at the steps, where they heard short speeches by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.
Hutchinson told the crowd that he had participated in his first March for Life 30 years earlier at the Capitol. Cotton noted that his son, Gabriel, is nine months old, and he and his wife love him as much now as when they first heard his heartbeat “just a few weeks after he was conceived.”
“Medical science now confirms what every parent knows and what religious and ethical teaching has said for centuries, that unborn children feel pain and they seek life,” he said.
Among the other elected officials speaking, Hill said he is a member of “the most pro-life Congress and Senate that I think we’ve ever had.” Westerman pointed to abortion-restricting bills passed by the Legislature and noted that Congress had recently sent a bill to defund Planned Parenthood to President Obama’s desk, which Obama vetoed. Boozman said, “The way we treat the voiceless and the most powerless among us speaks volumes about our priorities and values as a society.”
Also in attendance were Republicans Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Treasurer Dennis Milligan, Land Commissioner John Thurston, and numerous legislators.
The pro-life movement in the 2017 legislative session will focus on passing a bill to ban dismemberment abortions, where the fetus’ body is torn apart and extracted from the womb. Such laws were recently passed by Oklahoma and Kansas.
“We wouldn’t even consider dismemberment as a way of executing a convicted criminal, so why would we do that for an unborn child who is totally innocent?” said Jerry Cox, president of the pro-life Family Council.
Cox said lawmakers passed at least five pro-life laws in the 2015 legislative session: a law preventing state funding of Planned Parenthood; a law preventing telemedicine abortions; a law changing the requirements for parental consent for minors to obtain abortions; a law revamping what a woman must be told by her abortion provider; and a law requiring FDA protocols to be followed when using abortion-inducing drugs.
In 2013, legislators passed laws banning abortions in Arkansas after the 20th week and the 12th week. The 12-week ban has been struck down in court and appealed by Rutledge to the Supreme Court, but the 20-week ban has not been challenged.
Lekita Gaynor, volunteer coordinator for Arkansas Right to Life’s Black Americans for Life chapter, was one of three featured speakers. Gaynor said her mother, raped and pregnant with twins, refused to listen to others who advised her to get an abortion, giving Gaynor and her brother a chance to be born. She pointed to the high number of African-American abortions and said abortion “finds its very roots in racism.”
“When I speak out against abortion, when you speak out against abortion, you are fighting racism,” she said.
Also speaking was Lindsey Overman, who after being sexually assaulted was told that the fetus had severe disabilities and was advised to get an abortion. She didn’t, explaining that she would have been more haunted by the abortion than the assault. Her daughter is severely disabled but is a blessing nonetheless, she said.
Carrie Jones said her two abortions left her wracked with depression, grief and self-hatred and may have contributed to a miscarriage during her fourth pregnancy. During her first abortion, she said her request to see the ultrasound was denied and the side effects never explained. During her second abortion, she asked to be unconscious hoping it would reduce the trauma. It didn’t.
“It is because of my babies that I speak. It is in their honor, and it is for God’s glory,” she said.
There was no visible abortion rights counter-protest. The Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice will hold its 6th Annual Rally for Reproductive Justice Saturday, Jan. 23, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Arkansas State Capitol steps. According to the group’s Facebook page, speakers will include The Reverend Denise Donnell of the Human Rights Campaign; Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff; and Evelyn Rios of the Transgender Law Center.