Dr. Deborah Turner is not new to the fight over abortion rights.
Her first encounter occurred when she began medical school in 1973 at the University of Iowa, shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision. During her time as a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, Turner met a 24-year-old woman who was admitted to the hospital due to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening response the body has toward an infection.
“She underwent an illegal abortion out of desperation,” Turner said. “She had three young children at home. Seeing her suffer and then die because there was no access to safe abortion in her community was devastating.”
Turner, now the associate medical director of Planned Parenthood of North Central States and living in Lincoln, was one of the six speakers invited to the Women’s March at the Nebraska State Capitol on Oct. 2.
Listen to Turner’s speech here:
Lincoln Women’s March organized the rally in response to the Texas Supreme Court’s decision that allowed legislation, known as Texas Senate Bill 8, barring abortions after six weeks of pregnancy to go into effect on Sept. 1.
“We’re going to come together and advocate for abortion to not only be legal but also accessible, affordable and destigmatized,” said Hannah Wroblewski, one of the board members for Lincoln Women’s March.
U.S District Judge Robert Pitman of Texas ordered a temporary suspension of the law on Oct. 6. However, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Pitman’s ruling less than two days later.
Read our photo story on the march here.
Turner criticized the newly passed Texas abortion law not only for restricting abortion services but also for the vigilante system it created.
“The new Texas vigilante law goes against everything our nation stands for,” Turner said.
To ensure SB 8 is enforced, lawmakers will allow Texas residents to sue anyone who has aided an abortion, with lawsuits reaching at least $10,000. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent that the bill has “deputized the state’s citizens as bounty hunters” by offering them cash prizes for prosecuting their neighbors.
“Abortion bounty hunters—what a sad, sad day for America,” Turner said.
Aside from the Texas law, Turner warned of more “insidious and sneaky” ways abortion access can be blocked through gestational limits and waiting periods.
Those seeking an abortion in Nebraska are required to listen to a state-scripted recording with information designed to discourage abortion at least 24 hours before their appointments.
“They are then required to wait another hour in our centers after the ultrasound to give them the opportunity to change their mind,” Turner said. “Waiting periods imply women are not capable of making decisions wisely or for themselves. We make decisions every single day that are critical to this world.”
Turner added that all of these factors, coupled with the financial burden to access abortion, fall even more heavily on women of color, women with limited financial means and those who live in rural areas.
The people who attended the Women’s March were mostly white women.
Listen to Sangoyele leading the protesters in chants:
“Just take a look around. Looks real white isn’t it? Let’s keep it real. Why don’t Black folks feel comfortable and supported in these places?” asked speaker KaDeja Sangoyele, a member of the Black Leaders Movement.
A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2018 found that although White women and Black women accounted for similar percentages (38.7% and 33.6% respectively) for all abortions in the country, Black women have the highest abortion rates (21.2 abortions per 1,000 women) while White women have the lowest (6.3 abortions per 1,000 women).
Planned Parenthood reported that the high abortion rates among Black women are related to poverty and lack of access to prevention services.
“We have to make sure you’re not just out here fighting for yourself,” Sangoyele said.
Hannah Wroblewski said she was disappointed to see mostly white women at the rally on Oct. 2 as well.
“We intentionally partnered with other organizations to include women of color in the rally,” she said. “The majority of our Lincoln Women’s March [board members] are women of color, including our president, who’s a Black woman.”
She said that attendance for the rally was lower compared to other Women’s Marches they’ve hosted previously because of the pandemic, the Husker football game, the weather and the miscommunication with the National Women’s March that led to Lincoln’s rally being omitted from a list of events, prompting many Lincolnites to think the march was canceled.
Lincoln Councilwoman Jane Raybould appeared at the rally to condemn the government’s interference with a women’s right to choose. She said that to her, abortion is a personal decision. Making abortion safe and legal is one of the reasons she is running for the Nebraska State Senate to represent District 28 in 2022.
“This personal decision is one the government should not be involved in. This personal decision is for a woman, her family, her faith and her physician,” Raybould said.
Raybould also said she disapproved of the temporary conversion of a private room for mothers to breastfeed into an office in the Capitol.
“How can we be a pro-life state if we can’t even allow nursing mothers to have a station inside our bathroom?” Raybould asked.
Many of the speakers agreed that one way to push the government to legalize abortion is to vote.
“Your message matters. Your voice matters. Your vote matters,” Raybould said.
Wroblewski said Nebraskans should only cast their ballots for candidates who stand with Lincoln Women’s March in the demand for reproductive justice, which for her not only means making abortion affordable healthcare but also implementing quality sex education in schools.
“Take action today,” Turner said. “Encourage your senators to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, thereby giving you the opportunity to elect those who will support and sustain a woman’s right to choose.”
The Freedom to Vote Act, a reform package on voting, redistricting and campaign funding, was introduced by a group of Democratic senators in September 2021. These state laws are aimed at uplifting marginalized communities by expanding their opportunities to vote, prohibiting voter suppression and modernizing voter registration.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, introduced the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in August 2021. This act will expand and strengthen the government’s power to act on voting discrimination, especially toward the LGBTQ+ community and people of color.
“We will not be silenced,” Turner said. “And we will win.”