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Anti-Abortion Rally With Republican Governor, Attorney General Showcase Conservative Power In State

On the steps of the Arkansas state Capitol today supporters of ending legal abortion gathered for a rally. Yesterday, another march with very different ralliers called for keeping abortion legal — as well as grooming female political candidates for office, gun control and other liberal aims.

Both marches enjoyed passionate speakers and considerable turnout, but only one enjoyed the presence of the state's most powerful constitutional officeholders, from Gov. Asa Hutchinson down.
The March for Life went off without protest or disruption. It was the 40th such rally, according to organizers. It's been 45 years since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the case Roe v. Wade. 

Jane and Paul Byrd

"Well, a lot has changed," said Paul Byrd, who along with his wife Jane have been to all but the earliest Marches for Life.

Back in the day, they were "real" marches, the couple remember, up and down Main Street.

Byrd bristled at the suggestion that some Americans believe not a lot has changed in 40 years of rallies and protest against legal abortion.

"Well, a lot has changed," he said. "A lot of the politicians who did show up today used to not be here, and they're now serving in the executive branch, the legislative branch, so we do have that change."

The Byrds are Catholic, and before the event, Diocese of Little Rock Bishop Anthony Taylor said he could not in good faith attend because event organizers had picked Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to give the keynote address, and Rutledge had zealously prosecuted the governor's order to execute four men in April, something Catholics worldwide oppose.

The Byrds were respectful of Taylor's choice while at the same time unmoved. The same could be said for fellow Catholic Theo Walgreen of Little Rock, who said he agrees with Taylor but not enough that it would prevent him from turning out with a mock casket with the words "Family Planning" painted on it.

Credit Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media
Arkansas Public Media
Theo Walgreen's protest statement

"Respect life is a seamless garment, so you can't say, 'Well, he should live, and he should die.' Seamless garment is hope and compassion for all people."

One day earlier the second-ever Women's March took off along W. Capital Avenue, ending halfway up the Capitol steps. Though both marches came the same weekend that President Donald Trump celebrated the first anniversary of his inauguration, and the first weekend of a new government shutdown, Trump's name was not invoked Sunday, and even many on Saturday sought out to begin casting for wider aspirations and alliances.

"I think the tone has calmed down a little bit. I think it was post-apocalyptic at first," said Madeline Baber, who marched Saturday. "I think we're shifting toward, instead of being outraged about the possibilities, we're trying to project women into office."

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.


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