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'Not your body. Not your choice' : Local leaders, activists gather to celebrate 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

In December 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. The decision, expected in June, could weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — As the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade marks its 49th anniversary Saturday, Jan. 22, local leaders and activists rallied in Rock Island to support a woman's right to choose.

The Supreme Court ruling made access to safe and legal abortion a constitutional right, but that decision is facing one of its biggest challenges yet. 

In December 2021, the court heard oral arguments on a Mississippi law that makes most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about two months earlier than Roe and later decisions allow. The court is expected to make its decision in June.

RELATED: Justices signal they'll approve new abortion limits, may toss Roe v. Wade

Activists worry this year could be the last anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

"What's going on in the country right now is scary for women," said rally organizer Tracy Jones. "They're slowing chipping away at abortion rights in a lot of states. And I think it's important for people to know that women should have the choice over their own body, what choices they make, that's a personal decision. It's not something the government should be intervening in."

Quad Citians also rallied for women's reproductive rights last October, following the passage of a Texas law that bans abortion at six-weeks.

RELATED: Supreme Court won't speed challenge to Texas abortion limits

The Roe v. Wade anniversary rally featured several speakers, including area politicians and community leaders. The crowd of around 50 people were vocal, cheering and clapping during the speeches, and waving signs reading "the future is female," "keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers" and "not your body, not your choice."

One of those speakers was international keynote speakers and Sherrard native, Karli Johnson. She recalled growing up and not supporting abortion, but recounted how her viewpoint changed. 

In college, Johnson was sexually assaulted and had to take a pregnancy test. She recounted her internal turmoil because she didn't think she was ready to be a parent, but she also wasn't sure if she wanted to give up her body for nine months and then give the child up for adoption. 

"I will never forget being in that bathroom and flipping it over and seeing the results," she said. "And I sobbed into my hands, and I fell to the floor, and I crawled in bed. And I slept there for hours. And it doesn't matter what the results were, it doesn't matter what I chose to do. What matters is, it was so selfish of me for the first time in my life, I actually thought about my choices and the choices of other women and other birthing people, and the choices and the decisions that we have to make around our bodies and pregnancy."

Johnson added that forcing someone to have a child against their will is a form of torture.

"(It) is unconstitutional," she said. "It is inhumane and it is villainous, and it is torture. And it needs to stop. And if you are someone out there who agrees with these restrictions and these laws that are happening across our country, take a step back and ask yourself, 'Do I support torturing women? Do I support torturing birthing people?' Because that is what's happening."

"I've talked to so many people who said, 'I can't believe that we're still fighting this fight nearly 50 years after we thought it was settled," said Rock Island County Board member Angie Normoyle who also spoke at the rally. "An I say right back to them, 'Yeah I can't believe we're fighting it either when 59% of Americans, so six out of every 10 people, believe that abortion should be legal and accessible in all or most cases." 

Jones said that access to safe and legal abortion, as well as access to reproductive health care, should be a human issue, not a political one. 

"We had a pastor up there speaking, I mean, this is a human issue. It's not just a man, woman, political issue. This is about what people deserve," she said. "I know people are against abortion, but at the same time, they're not giving kids the tools, or people the tools, they need so they won't get pregnant. It doesn't make any sense to me. It's very frustrating."

Other speakers included Athena Bond, executive committee member of the Iowa Democratic Black Caucus; Deb Sperry, board member of Progressive Action for the Common Good; Katie Styrt, pastor and local activist; Bonnie Ballard, Rock Island County NAACP President; State Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) and Gregg Johnson, Democratic candidate for the Illinois 72nd District.

Representative Halpin emphasized that there are no current restrictions to abortion access in Illinois. 

On the other side of the river, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled abortion to be a fundamental right to Iowans in 2018. 

However, Iowa state lawmakers have proposed a constitutional amendment that would rule that Iowa "does not recognize, grant, or secure a right to abortion or require the public funding of abortion."

RELATED: Can Iowa outlaw abortions?

The state House of Representatives and Senate both approved the proposed amendment's language in 2021. To become law though, the proposed amendment would need to be approved by back-to-back General Assemblies, meaning lawmakers would have to approve the measure again in the 2023-24 session. Iowans would then vote to approve the change in a general election. The earliest that could happen is in 2024.

Several rally speakers also emphasized the importance of voting, and not taking current reproductive rights for granted.

"This is not a fight that can be won in rallies or single events," Normoyle said. "It's going to take a nationwide, state by state, grassroots effort to ensure that safe and accessible reproductive health care is available to all women. So today, I challenge you to get involved, get your friends involved, stay engaged, we must organize. We must volunteer. We must door knock. We must advocate, we must donate because this is a fight that costs money. And most importantly, we need to vote."