Northwest Arkansas community members gathered outside the Washington County Courthouse on Tuesday evening in support of abortion rights and in protest of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that will overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision if published.
The justices’ unpublished majority opinion, leaked to and made public by Politico over the weekend, lays out a decision that would overturn years of precedent guaranteeing all Americans the right to an abortion free of undue government intervention. If the Court formally issues the ruling, the decision to legalize or criminalize the procedure will fall to state legislatures.
About 100 people attended Tuesday’s protest, many holding signs that read “My Body, My Choice,” “Abortion is Healthcare” and “Keep the Government Out of Our Wombs.” Several attendees led chants and spoke about abortion rights, maternal mortality rates for Black and Indigenous women, and access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education.
Fayetteville resident Haley Zega went to the protest after reading about the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion. Zega was terrified when she learned of it, she said.
“I honestly wanted to cry when I heard the news yesterday,” Zega said. “I hate to say that I wasn’t surprised, but unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised. It’s difficult to think that we are regressing instead of progressing in this country, and it makes me really sad and angry.”
Zega said she feels scared living in such a conservative state as Arkansas, where many people want to abolish the right to abortion. Should Roe v. Wade be officially overturned, an Arkansas law passed in 2019 will make all abortions, with the exception of those performed to save the life of the pregnant parent, illegal in the state. Arkansas is one of 13 states with such a “trigger law” in place.
Colette Tesoro, a high schooler who lives in Bentonville, attended the protest to contribute to the fight for abortion rights in Arkansas, she said. She also wanted to draw awareness to maternal mortality rates among women of color.
“Especially here in the South, where maternal mortality rates are the highest among women of color, this recent Supreme Court decision of the draft that was leaked will disproportionately affect women here,” Tesoro said. “So it’s of the utmost importance that we build the support here, and show people that they’re not alone.”
Black women comprise 37% of all pregnancy-associated deaths in Arkansas, despite Black Arkansans making up around 16% of the state population, according to a 2021 Arkansas Department of Health study. Among all pregnancy-related deaths in the state, 92% are considered potentially preventable.
Daniel Kennefick, an associate professor of physics, went to the protest to show support for reproductive rights, he said. Growing up in Ireland, Kennefick witnessed the tight restrictions put on abortion by the country’s conservative government, as well as its full legalization in 2018. He does not want to see Arkansas regress, he said.
Daniel’s wife Julia Kennefick, who is also an associate professor of physics, attended the protest because she wants her daughter to have access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, she said.
“She’s 12, and I want her to have the ability to make decisions that are good for her,” Julia Kennefick said. “I want her to have good healthcare to make sure her doctor has her best interest at heart and doesn’t have to worry about the laws that are there, so that she has the freedom to make decisions about the size of her family.”
Kennefick wants all people to have the right to freedom of choice when it comes to their bodies, she said.
“I think it’s really important that everyone has the right to have the families that they want and have good, safe healthcare,” Kennefick said.
Zega sometimes feels like her voice and those others like her get drowned out by conservative lawmakers and community members, she said. She hopes the protest amplified the voices of Arkansans who believe in the right to accessible reproductive healthcare.
“I came to this protest because I understand that abortion is healthcare and a fundamental human right,” Zega said. “I believe that safe and legal abortions save lives, and that every person with a uterus deserves to have a level of care in this country. That is a basic human right.”