Hundreds of Utahns opposed to a recently enacted law restricting abortion gathered on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday night in a final protest before the legislative session ended.
"Our theme is, just because the session is over we will not forget," said Mary Carlson, director of community services for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah and a member of the Pro-Choice Coalition, which sponsored the rally.They were trying to reinforce their opposition to the bill passed by lawmakers at the start of the 45-day session. The new law, considered by many the most restrictive abortion measures in the country, drew national attention to Utah.
Pro-choice groups have promised to seek an injunction against the legislation, which restricts abortion only to cases of rape, incest, when the life of the mother is in jeopardy or if there are grave fetal deformities.
Among the 500 or so men, women and children who held candles during their nearly hourlong vigil were a group of Skyline High School debate students who remained behind long after most rally participants left.
"The Legislature may not listen to me, but at least I'll know I've done what I can," said Andrea Ash, a 17-year-old senior.
Classmate Kim Whitlock, 18, said she still hoped to persuade lawmakers that the bill was wrong. "It's never too late to voice your opinion," Whitlock said.
Inger, a labor and delivery nurse at a local hospital who asked that her last name be withheld, said she had a message for lawmakers: "I would tell them to keep out of my private life; I'm fully capable of making my own decisions."
The native of Scandinavia said she has had two abortions and had no problem doing so. Turning to her 12-year-old daughter, she said, "But here is one of my choices."
Several people said they would not have an illegal abortion in Utah but would instead go to a state where abortion is legal. Women who couldn't afford that option should have "more education," Inger said. "I see 16-year-olds who never bond with their children; they need more education so they can learn not to make choices they regret." She added that protesting on the Capitol steps "won't make a difference to legislators. But I want people to know I support women making their own choices."
The point of the rally, according to Carlson, was not anger. "We gathered to celebrate life." But before it was over, Carlson and others were very angry.
"Apparently, we made the security people nervous," she said, "because they locked us out of the Capitol. We wanted to come in and leave messages and they didn't want us to. I was told we had a permit to be outside, but not inside. That would deny private citizens the right to petition their government."
A representative of the security force said that the protesters were locked outside because legislators were eating in the rotunda area and they didn't want a large number of people "traipsing through" all at once. Instead, the protesters were allowed in two at a time or when someone left the Capitol.
Inside, pro-choice advocates sent messages to senators and representatives voicing their opinions on the bills.
An usher in the Senate said that there were more "thank yous" from people who oppose abortion and supported the bill than there were protests about it.