Liz Zacher sports a rain coat with the words “Stop the war on women” written on it with duct tape (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

Sitkans gathered in front of the local courthouse on Tuesday (5-3-22) to demonstrate in support of reproductive rights, after a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion suggested that a majority of the court will support overturning Roe versus Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. 

Sotera Perez was one of the organizers leading Sitka’s demonstration, which was happening in tandem on courthouse steps across the country. She said she wasn’t surprised by the decision in the draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito.

“We’ve known for a long time that that’s where this was heading,” Perez said. “But the fact that it came so far in advance of the ruling that it’s based on, which is the Missouri abortion ban, that was interesting that it came so early.”

Perez said that people with means are always going to have access to abortions–

“The ones that are going to suffer are people who are economically disadvantaged, people of color, especially young people with uteruses,” she said. “For me, the thing that’s the most important is figuring out how to be helpful here on the ground, especially because Sitka has such limited options as far as accessing abortion care is concerned.”

She held a sign that said, “They aren’t going to stop with Roe v. Wade.” She worries that the Supreme Court decision could go beyond abortion, putting other rights at risk.

“I think that the end game of this Supreme Court is not to end the right to abortion. I think it’s to systematically dismantle all of our rights, especially the ones that they feel that certain portions of the population aren’t entitled to,” Perez said.

Bo Ihde, Lisa Schwartz, and Sotera Perez hold hand made sings at a protest in support of reproductive rights outside the Sitka courthouse (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)

The group discussed abortion rights and resources in Alaska– like where to get an abortion, where to donate money or other resources, and what the ruling could mean for the state.

Abortion is legal in Alaska and protected by the Alaska State Constitution, even if Roe v. Wade falls. But some organizers voiced concerns about a current push to change the state’s constitution, initially fueled by tensions over the Permanent Fund Dividend. This November, Alaskans will vote on whether they want to hold a constitutional convention next year. The question is on the ballot every 10 years in Alaska, and voters have never said yes. The last convention was in 1955, three years before Alaska became a state. Organizers worry that if Alaskans vote to hold a convention, a strong push by abortion opponents to remove privacy protections in the state constitution is on the horizon.

“So they’ll say, if you call Sullivan’s office or Murkowski’s office, that we are protected through our state constitution,” demonstrator Tory O’Connell Curran said to the group on Tuesday. “But that is only true if they don’t change the state constitution and they’re trying to do that now.”

On Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski expressed concerns about the draft opinion. Murkowski co-sponsored the Reproductive Choice Act with Senator Susan Collins of Maine. But at Sitka’s gathering, Curran told organizers to push for Sitka’s congressional delegation to support a more comprehensive rival measure backed by Democrats– the Women’s Health Protection Act.

Advocates for reproductive health, like Perez, have been here before.

“I was telling my young friend that the only time I ever almost got arrested was at a choice coalition. And I was younger than she is now. So I’ve been doing this for a very long time at this point,” she said.

“And it’s the thing that just keeps coming back…keeps coming back, and keeps coming back,” she continued. “And ultimately, I firmly believe that reproductive rights are…the gate between us and control that other people have over our bodies, and I think that we have to defend it really staunchly.” 

After about half an hour discussion in front of the courthouse sheltered from the pouring rain, Perez and the group of around 20 demonstrators walked to Sitka’s roundabout to wave at passing cars on their commute home, signs and umbrellas in hand. 

Demonstrators Clarice Johnson and sister Karen Johnson chat outside the courthouse in Sitka (KCAW/Tash Kimmell)