Santa Rosa rally unites opponents of new bills restricting abortion

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About 300 people gathered in Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa Tuesday afternoon to oppose restrictive abortion laws instituted by several U.S. states in recent weeks.

“What happens in other states is very important to all of us, not only as a gender, but society as a whole,” rally organizer Leslie Graves said. The rally, she said, was “an opportunity for everybody to come together, and not only use their voices in this moment, but to carry on those actions in the future.”

The demonstration was part of a national day of action called for by a coalition of organizations including the ACLU and NARAL Pro-Choice America. More than 450 rallies were held nationwide, covering all 50 states, according to a report by USA Today.

The rallies were in response to a wave of anti-abortion bills passed by state legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi.

The most restrictive of the bills, in Alabama, bans abortions in almost all cases, including rape and incest, and subjects doctors to a potential sentence of 99 years in prison if convicted of performing an abortion.

Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, and leading Republican lawmakers have said that the legislation is intended to spark a court fight that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion.

“Every bill is different, and I think they’re trying to find the magic one that the Supreme Court will find constitutional,” said Beth Aldridge, who attended the Santa Rosa rally holding a provocative sign depicting an elephant holding a coat hanger with its trunk — a graphic critique of the Republican party’s stance on abortion.

“(Supreme Court Justice Brett) Kavanaugh promised (Republican Maine Senator) Susan Collins that he will not overturn precedent, including Roe, but I’m scared that he will,” Aldridge said.

Ruth Hansten said the issue is personal to her because as a nurse in the pre-Roe v. Wade days, she saw the impact of abortion bans first-hand.

“I have seen the effects of botched backstreet abortions, and I’m not willing to see that happen again,” she said. “It’s abominable to see what happened before Roe v. Wade, and it will happen again.”

Hansten’s husband, Phil Hansten, held a sign that read “It’s past time for pro-choice men to join the fight and SPEAK OUT!!!”

“I do think that if men had babies, this wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.

Alabama Republican state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who sponsored the bill in the Alabama Senate, staunchly defended the legislation last week.

“When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,” he said, as reported by multiple news outlets.

Featured speakers at the Santa Rosa rally included Lorell Saxena, an acupuncturist based in Santa Rosa. She urged men in the crowd to share stories of how abortion benefited them. She also compared abortion opponents to Bermuda grass, saying staunch opposition to abortion would never be eliminated and could only be contained.

“We’re never going to get rid of hate. We’re never going to get rid of men that think they can control women’s bodies,” she said. “Little by little, we eradicate, we educate... We don’t get rid of it, but we don’t let it win.”

Sharon Cronan came to the rally with a sign that said “Christian grandma for choice.” She said she worked for 35 years as a nurse in intensive care units for newborns in San Francisco and Santa Rosa.

“I’ve seen 14-year-olds have babies, usually who were abused. It’s one thing if they want to keep their baby, but if they don’t want to, having a baby is going to destroy them,” she said. “We should not force people to have babies they cannot emotionally or physically take care of, especially if we’re not paying for housing or health care.”

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Beale at 707-521-5205 or andrew.beale@pressdemocrat.com.

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