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article imageArkansas residents protest legislature's war on women Special

By Kay Mathews     Mar 24, 2013 in Politics
Little Rock - Hundreds gathered at a grassroots "Protest at the Arkansas Capitol" to denounce "extreme reproductive laws in Arkansas," and raised their voices and signs in protest of the war on women being waged by the conservative majority in the state legislature.
An "event" invitation on Facebook, called "Protest at the Arkansas Capitol," led to hundreds of Arkansas residents making their way to the eastern steps of the Capitol at 3:00p.m. on March 23. The theme of the rally was “Stop The War On Women,” and speakers included State Senator Joyce Elliott and Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.
The original event invitation stated the following: We are protesting the passing of extreme reproductive laws in Arkansas. Come and protest in solidarity with the women of Arkansas to let our legislators know we won't stand for these restrictive and unconstitutional laws!
Included in the invitation was information about bills that have passed and those that are pending as of March 13, 2013, including:
- SB134, bans abortion after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat can be detected via abdominal ultrasound. Exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and extreme fetal anomaly.
PASSED in the Arkansas Legislature; set to become law 90 days after close of the current session.
- HB1037, bans abortion at 20 weeks; exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
PASSED in the Arkansas Legislature; enacted immediately; IS NOW THE LAW.
- HB1098, to change the definition of "child" under the Child Maltreatment act, from 'birth to 18' to 'fetal heartbeat to 18'. Requires medical professionals to report suspected "abuse" of a fetus by a pregnant woman.
Current activity unclear - has been on the agenda for House Committee on Public Health since late January, not raised for discussion or vote as of 03/12/13.
On the day of the protest, more than 1,500 people had "Joined" the event online. Even on a chilly, overcast day, hundreds showed-up in-person and on the Capitol steps in Little Rock, Ark. Two of those in attendance agreed to be interviewed by Digital Journal.
ArkansasOnline [subscription required] reported that "about 500 people protested Saturday on the steps of the state Capitol." When asked about that number, Farrell Matlock, from Lowell, Ark., stated, "Over 1,500 people RSVP'd via the Facebook event page, but by my estimation there were probably 800-1200 people there. The sidewalk from the bottom of the steps almost out to the street was covered with people."
Crowd at  Protest at the Capitol  event.  Little Rock  Ark.  3/23/13
Crowd at "Protest at the Capitol" event. Little Rock, Ark. 3/23/13
Courtesy of Maria Baez de Hicks
Pictures of the event posted on Facebook seemed to indicate that the crowd was very diverse. Nicole Yountz Mozzoni, a resident of Rogers, Ark. who attended the protest rally, confirmed that observation. "Even in the chilled air, my heart was warmed by so many variations of humanity," said Mozzoni. "The young, obviously, but even the very young with misspelled signs like 'women have rites,' to black and white. Women, and men who love them, and men who love other men, but felt the need for solidarity! I was especially touched by an older woman who was shivering and complained to her husband that she was cold. He gently tried to tuck her scarf in, but to no avail: she was still cold, but she refused to leave."
Matlock concurred, saying, "I am proud to say that this is the first event where the male/female ratio was fairly equal! The men really stepped up to support their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and friends."
Matlock and Mozzoni were asked about what motivated them to attend the event. Matlock replied, "For most of my adult life, I was oblivious to the fact that women still weren't treated as equals in this country. I had always considered them equal, so I assumed most everyone else did, too. Shortly after the birth of my daughter (5 years ago in May) I realized that this was not the case. A friend of mine invited me to a women's rally, and when I told her I wasn't a woman, her response was ‘But you have a daughter, and you're a lover of women.’ That ended the discussion for me! I went in the hopes that my daughter will not have to protest these same issues when she is grown."
Child holding sign at  Protest at the Capitol  event.  Little Rock  Ark.  3/23/13
Child holding sign at "Protest at the Capitol" event. Little Rock, Ark. 3/23/13
Courtesy of Farrell Matlock
"I was motivated to attend because I was shocked by the latest legislation coming out of Little Rock," said Mozzoni. "Although, I do not personally think I would ever have an abortion, I could NEVER tell another woman what to do with her body. I am deeply saddened that these politicians are capable, with one yay vote, of catapulting women's rights back 100 years. This is America! The greatest nation on Earth, and this is how we show it? To shackle one particular group is criminal."
The Arkansas law banning abortions at 20 weeks is, according to Sklar, "unconstitutional." Sklar told Reuters, "The Supreme Court has upheld voluntary abortions up to the point of viability - 20 weeks is pre-viability."
Similarly, Arkansas' Democratic Governor Mike Beebe thinks the law is unconstitutional and will be costly. According to Reuters, "Beebe had said he vetoed the 20-week ban because he believed it contradicted the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion, and it would be costly to defend the law from legal challenges."
Sign at  Protest at the Capitol  event directed at Republican Sen. Jason Rapert.  LIttle Rock  Ark. ...
Sign at "Protest at the Capitol" event directed at Republican Sen. Jason Rapert. LIttle Rock, Ark. 3/23/13
Courtesy of Maria Baez de Hicks
Not only did Arkansas' Republican-controlled legislature override Gov. Beebe's veto of this bill, they also overrode Beebe's veto of S.B. 134, sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, which bans most abortions after 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat is detected. Called "the nation's most restrictive abortion ban," according to USA TODAY, "The law, titled the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act, takes effect this summer."
Opponents of these restrictive laws will not, however, be silenced. Organizers of the grassroots "Protest at the Capitol" event state on their Facebook event page, "We are extending the time ending for this event in order to coordinate our efforts to raise our voice and tell the legislators.....NO GOVERNMENT IN OUR BODIES! WE STAND IN UNISON FOR EQUALITY FOR EACH AND EVERY ARKANSAN!"
Certainly, neither Matlock nor Mozzoni will be deterred. When asked if they think the protest will change the minds of ultra-conservative legislators, Mozzoni presented an example of what women's rights advocates are up against while remaining optimistic. She said:
I feel that this quite possibly could fall on deaf ears. I recently attended a Planned Parenthood Lobby Day, and requested meetings with several Representatives. I looked into their eyes. I looked into their hearts, and alas, there was no compromise or understanding. I wanted to put a face to a constituent who believes in choice, but I was met with a Southern hospitable dismissal, via the dreaded, 'Thank you for coming.'
I think we are seeing a resurgence of conservatism unlike anything before. Pair this with a low information populace...and there you have a recipe for progressive disaster. This will not deter me. I will never stop fighting. I will take every chance to enlighten, invite, and inform.
Crowd at  Protest at the Capitol  event.  Little Rock  Ark.  3/23/13
Crowd at "Protest at the Capitol" event. Little Rock, Ark. 3/23/13
Courtesy of Farrell Matlock
"My hope is that events like these will raise the level of awareness of Arkansans to a point where they do what is necessary to remove these types from office and never elect others like them," said Matlock. "This legislative session was supposed to be about Medicaid expansion, education, and jobs for Arkansans. So far it's been nothing but guns, fetuses, and voter suppression. It is time for the people of this state, and this nation, to cast off the shroud of apathy and the 'My vote doesn't count' mindset and get to work! Anyone in Northwest Arkansas who has a desire to get involved on any level is welcome to contact me either by email, phone, or Facebook."
More about Arkansas, war on women, Abortion, Women's rights, fetal heartbeat
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