About 40 people rallied near City Hall, Tuesday, against the recent abortion bans that have been passed in other states.
Chanting “Stop the ban,” participants held pink signs reading “Protect safe, legal abortions.”
Tuesday’s effort was spearheaded by the Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood, in collaboration with Indivisible Memphis, Choices, and other pro-choice advocacy organizations.
Ashley Coffield, president of Planned Parenthood for the Greater Memphis Region said that 73 percent of Americans oppose banning abortion, and “we’re out here today to raise up their voices and tell the nation that we won’t stand for it.”
“In Tennessee we have Planned Parenthood and other organizations that offer abortion, and that’s a great thing,” Coffield said. “But we are under attack from our legislature right now. It’s worse than it’s ever been.”
Sixteen states passed legislation this year either placing greater restrictions on abortion or effectively banning the procedure completely.
Coffield said the Tennessee legislature was close to passing an outright abortion ban this year, but that measure failed in the state Senate. That legislation is slated to be discussed during the legislation’s summer session.
Tennessee did, however, pass a law that would criminalize abortion in Tennessee if the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is overturned. That law, the Human Life Protection Act, would ban abortions except "when an abortion is necessary to prevent death" or "substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function."
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the law would make it a felony offense for doctors to perform abortions. Under the law, women seeking abortions would not be prosecuted.
“The fight is far from over in Tennessee,” Coffield said. “Our rights are at risk like they’ve never been before and this is a coordinated attack nationwide to get a case to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Coffield said abortion is basic health care for women and making abortion illegal won’t stop abortions: “Abortion will just be unsafe and women will die.”
Currently, in Tennessee abortion is legal throughout the first 20 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. However, the law places restrictions and regulations on clinics who offer abortion and women seeking the procedure, according to Holly Calvasina, director of development and communications for Choices.
One of those regulations is the 48-hour waiting period, Calvasina said. Women seeking an abortion must a woman to see a physician on two different occasions. According to the law, this is to ”reduce coerced abortions and to allow time to carefully consider the information and resources provided by informed consent provisions.”
Calvasina said this makes abortions more expensive, because women must pay for two doctor’s visits.
Diane Duke, executive director of Friends for Life, was also at the rally. She said that abortion is a woman’s right.
“Women are able to make their own decision about the timing and the size of their families,” Duke said. “We are women. We are the ultimate authority and definitive authority of our own body. We know if abortions are illegal, women will die.”
Duke also noted that “because of white privilege, our brown and black sisters will disproportionately bear the burden of an abortion ban.”
“This will further reinforce the institutional racism that is so predominant here in the South,” Duke said.
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who sits on the Planned Parenthood board here, was also at the rally, speaking against abortion bans.
“It was more important for me to be here with you on the ground to say ‘this won’t fly for us’” Sawyer said. “I know personally what it means to be able to make decisions about your body. No one should be able to tell anyone what they can do what their life and their future.
“When we are talking about stopping the ban, it is important that we show up in Memphis because if you don’t think Tennessee is next, you’re sleeping.”
Tuesday’s rally here was one of more than 400 happening across the country, urging for an end to abortion bans.