ROCKFORD — “We won’t go back” was the rallying cry in the city’s downtown Saturday as supporters of reproductive rights denounced the recently-enacted abortion ban in Texas and warned that lawmakers in other states may follow suit.
About 200 people gathered at Davis Park and applauded a series of speakers who vilified Senate Bill 8, the Texas law which bans abortions as early as six weeks and contains no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, sexual abuse, incest or for pregnancies involving a fetal defect incompatible with life after birth.
The law, which took effect Sept. 1, bans abortion before many women know they’re pregnant, according to Mary McNamara Bernsten with Women’s March Rockford.
The law also encourages vigilantism by offering a bounty to anyone who successfully sues someone who helps a pregnant woman seeking abortion care, McNamara Bernsten said.
“Texas’ action is a direct threat to Texas women and a warning to all other states,” she said. “This is why we are marching. We won’t go back.”
Some of the people gathered at Davis Park toted signs reading ‘My body, my choice’, ‘Your belief is not my burden’ and ‘No bounty on my uterus.’
Winnebago County Citizens for Choice President and former State Rep. Barb Giolitto publicly recalled getting pregnant by her boyfriend in 1964 when she was a 17-year-old high school senior.
“Back then, somebody got herself pregnant — that’s my favorite — and then got kicked out of school,” Giolitto told the crowd.
Giolitto recalled driving to Peoria in an attempt to gain access to what was then an illegal abortion but was turned away because she was not accompanied by a parent or guardian.
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“I was very scared and alone. It didn’t look like a physician’s office,” she said. “How dare those politicians want to go back to those times?”
Having access to abortion is a moral issue for many people of faith, according to Brooke Road United Methodist Church Pastor Violet Johnicker.
“We know that religious people are not all of one mind on this but I’m here today to tell you that many clergy, many people of faith and spiritual people are advocating for reproductive freedom and abortion access,” said Johnicker, who is six months pregnant. “The Pew Research Center reported this year that outside of conservative evangelicals, a majority of religious people believe abortion should be legal.”
The local rally for reproductive rights attracted a handful of state lawmakers from the area, including representatives Maurice West and Dave Vella and Sen. Steve Stadelman.
“Reproductive health is under attack across the country,” Stadelman told the crowd. “We must make sure that we in Illinois make reproductive health available to all women.”
Men were encouraged Saturday to become more actively involved in the fight for reproductive rights.
Oren Jacobson, who co-founded an organization called Men for Choice in Illinois in 2015, said we are living in a pro-choice nation.
“You see, this is not just a fight about abortion,” Jacobson said. “It is a fight about freedom and power and control. No person can be free if they do not control their own body, their own health care and their own reproductive decisions.”