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Everyone from senior citizens to high school seniors in Missoula was urged to get involved in the fight to protect women's reproductive rights at a “Stop the Bans: Day of Action" rally Tuesday afternoon.

About 150 people gathered at the Missoula County Courthouse at noon to join rallies across the country to protest what they called an “all-out assault on abortion access.” The rallies came after eight states passed bills this year to restrict abortions as part of an effort to overturn the constitutional right established 46 years ago in the historic lawsuit Roe v. Wade.

“The Supreme Court is the battleground. All the bans across the country have only one thing they want — to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Keenan, a past president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Make the personal political, and political means you act on your personal beliefs. You register to vote. Get your friends registered. … We need to fight it here.”

Sara MacCalman said she joined the rally because the abortion restrictions “have nothing to do with babies.”

“It’s all about the power and control of the patriarchy,” MacCalman said. “It’s a funny thing. I’m of the age when I remember what it was like when we were in high school and someone was pregnant. It was panic time. I realize a lot of women my daughter’s age have no memory of that and don’t know how bad it can be.

“All those people who are so eager to take control, if they really cared they would be handing out condoms.”

Carrying signs that read “I am a woman, not a womb,” “Women Deserve the Same Rights as Guns” and “Laws Off My Uterus,” about 30 Hellgate High School students marched across the Higgins Street Bridge to attend the rally.

Marly Scolatti, a Hellgate senior, said for many young girls, these are scary times, which is why both male and female students attended the rally.

“It’s scary to feel you have no power. But when you see us all out there we feel a little less alone,” Scolatti said.

Alabama is the first state to place an outright ban on abortion. Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri passed “heartbeat” bills that prohibit abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy, while Arkansas and Utah limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester.

All of the measures are expected to face lengthy court battles in order to become test cases for Roe v. Wade, especially in light of the conservative Supreme Court majority.

The 1973 Roe decision says abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside of the womb, which can be between 24 and 28 weeks.

More than 400 events were held nationwide to protest the recent wave of anti-abortion laws, using the #StopTheBan hashtag. Organizers of Missoula’s rally included the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, Missoula Rises and the Susan Wicklund Fund.

The groups note that while Montanans’ right to privacy is embedded in the state constitution, attempts to limit abortions were made during recent legislative sessions. Three bills limiting abortions that were introduced in the 2019 legislature were vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock; he also rejected two abortion bills in 2017 and three in 2015.

Four-time legislator Kim Dudik, a Democrat from Missoula who is running for attorney general, called the legislation “government overreach.”

“Freedom and the right to privacy are not dirty words. We have the right to privacy in our constitution,” Dudik said. “It’s easy to call this a war on women because they get pregnant. But it is a war of our government against peoples’ rights. We’re seeing laws that don’t protect the right of the people. These are ideological laws that push the agenda, but it’s not what the majority want.

“We don’t want the government in our bedrooms or health care providers’ offices. We don’t need the government telling us what to do.”

Karen Wickersham, the chair of the Missoula County Democrats, urged those in the crowd to register to vote, get their friends registered, and to either volunteer during elections or run for office themselves, noting that the age of eligibility is 18.

Stacie Anderson, a City Council member who also sits on the board of Planned Parenthood Missoula, plans to bring a citizen-led resolution to the council that affirms a woman’s fundamental right to privacy in health care decisions. The measure also states that the council will “fully oppose” laws that include governmental interference in pregnancies.

“The citizen-led resolution is designed to specifically put members of our City Council on the record with yes, they support a woman’s right to choose, or no, they don’t,” Anderson said. “There’s no more squirming out of it. It’s an up or down vote, so voters can make informed judgments.”

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