Oct. 1—With states passing increasingly strict abortion laws, women's rights advocates will hold marches nationwide, including in the Four-State Area, on Saturday to defend reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.
The Women's March will return to the nation's capital, with participants seeking to defend abortion access. More than 600 accompanying marches have been registered in all 50 states, including in the cities of Joplin and Pittsburg, Kansas.
Among the targets of the marches is Texas' Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. That's before some women know they're pregnant. The law offers no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Other states such as Mississippi are passing their own measures to try to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which gave women the constitutional right to access abortion in 1973. The court said earlier this year that it will hear a case about Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban.
Missouri lawmakers also have sought to pass stricter abortion laws. Missouri is one of five states in the country with only one clinic offering abortion services.
"Missourians have long felt this looming reality — the right to access abortion hanging on by a thread, and in states like Missouri and Mississippi, by one lone abortion clinic," said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, in a statement. "That thread could soon unravel with the Supreme Court taking up a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."
Julie Joplin Media, an intersectional feminist organization that focuses on issues affecting women and minorities, is joining the movement alongside other community organizations to conduct a local women's march.
The March for Reproductive Freedom will run from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the corner of East Seventh Street and Range Line Road in Joplin. Other area organizers include Food Not Bombs, Joplin For Bernie, Carthage Progressives United, Pittsburg Progressives, Joplin For Justice, Seven Activism, Pro Heaux Kansas, Free Mom Hugs-Joplin and Planned Parenthood in Joplin.
"We've had over 100 people say they were going and over 150 say they were interested, so we're hoping to get a decent turnout," said Jamie Lindsey, chief editor at Julie Joplin Media. "Even if it's not that big, we know that the people who are there and supporting us online are doing it for the right reasons. We appreciate all of the support."
Lindsey said women should have the choice to do what's best for their bodies and their families. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine notes that more than 200 abortion-related laws have been enacted from January 2017 to November 2020.
"They just keep getting more and more restrictive," Lindsey said. "After the Supreme Court didn't block the Texas law from happening, it was really a wake-up call for a lot of people around the nation knowing that these restrictions are going to get tighter in a lot of the red states."
According to the study, seven states — Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and Utah — accounted for 119 of the laws, or 52.4%.
"It affects every person here on many levels, and it is a reaction to what is happening currently, but it's also an ongoing issue because we know when Congress and the Supreme Court reconvenes, there will be abortion-related bills on the table," Lindsey said. "Getting Congress to pass the Women's Health Protection Act is going to be a step in the right direction."
The Women's Health Protection Act is federal legislation that would protect the right to access abortion care throughout the U.S. It was introduced with 176 supporters in the House and 48 in the Senate.
Pittsburg State University's Altruistic Alliance of University Women is joining the nationwide movement and hosting a March for Reproductive Rights in Southeast Kansas. Other partners include PSU's Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Students for Violence Prevention and Q Space.
The event will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday in Immigrant Park, 106 Second St. in Pittsburg. The band Amanita will play from 2 to 2:45 p.m. at the Pritchett Pavilion. The march begins at 3 p.m.; participants will walk from Second to 11th streets. There will also be an opportunity for those wanting to share their stories or speak about reproductive rights following the march. Masks are required.
"We do care about women's rights and reproductive rights, and helping the most vulnerable people is really important to the organization," said Blake Johnson, an event organizer and member of the Altruistic Alliance of University Women. "This march was something that matters to all of us."
The number of abortions performed in Kansas increased by 9.1% last year as more women traveled from Oklahoma and Texas to terminate pregnancies, according to the state. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says 7,542 abortions were performed in 2020, an increase from 6,916 in 2019.
Johnson said the issue of reproductive rights is crucial to residents in Southeast Kansas.
"We are in danger of having our rights taken from us, and we need to fight to maintain our freedom," she said. "People with wombs are under attack, and it's horrible. This is more than 50% of our country that's under attack by these laws."
In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court declared that the state constitution protects abortion rights. The decision prevented the state from enforcing what was a first-in-the-nation law that could have greatly limited second trimester abortions.
The Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year approved a proposed amendment to the state constitution to try to overturn the Supreme Court's 2019 decision. Voters will decide whether to approve it in the August 2022 election. Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt said earlier this year that he will ask the Kansas Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.