Abortion opponents rally at Capitol during ‘crucial time in Arizona’

Miguel Jacinto, left, a pastor at Ministerios Llamada Final in Tucson, listens to speakers during the March for Life at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix Friday. He blew into a horn throughout the rally and march. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Olivia Escobedo, spokeswoman for It Goes Too Far, speaks to marchers at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix. It Goes Too Far is the campaign opposing a proposed ballot question this fall that would guarantee abortion rights. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

Marchers walk in front of the Executive Tower in Phoenix during the March for Life on Friday. Many of those at the march and rally brought their children. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Abortion opponents packed the plaza outside the Arizona Capitol on Friday in an impassioned display of anti-abortion advocacy at what one advocate called “a crucial time in Arizona” for the abortion fight.

This year’s March for Life comes as the Arizona Supreme Court is considering whether to reinstate an abortion ban in the state, while activists are fighting to put a question on this fall’s ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

It also came the same day that CVS and Walgreen’s announced they have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to begin dispensing mifepristone, commonly known as the abortion pill, in some states this month. Arizona is not on the list of states where the chains said they plan to begin dispensing the medications.

“This is a crucial time in Arizona because the abortion lobby is more aggressive and more deceptive than ever before,” said Garrett Riley, executive director of the Arizona Life Coalition, during Friday’s rally. “Amidst these challenges, Arizona Life Coalition is steadfast advocating for pro-life choices.”

The crowd was filled with church groups, parents with children, and students, many from area Catholic schools. Samantha Villalobos, campus minister at St. Mary’s Catholic High School, said about 350 students from the school were at the march.

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“We are pro-life to our core so we bring our kids here,” Villalobos said. “We came last year, so they want to come back and they want to spend time with like-minded pro-life people and promote the cause.”

Attendees carried pink and blue balloons and waved signs with anti-abortion messages as they prayed and chanted. Speakers, who included some state lawmakers, urged those in the crowd to fight Arizona for Abortion Access, the proposed abortion-rights constitutional amendment.

“We in the Arizona Legislature urge every person to refuse to sign the Arizona Abortion Access Act on the ballot as this is an assault on God’s value and sovereignty regarding the sanctity of human life,” said Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, adding that “a child is not a reproductive choice and abortion care is not health care.”

Arizona currently allows abortions up to 15 weeks, with exemptions for medical emergencies. But the Arizona Supreme Court is currently considering a legal challenge that argues a near-total ban from the 19th century that was never taken off the books is still the law of the land. The court heard arguments in December and could release its ruling any day.

Abortion advocates hope to make the court’s ruling moot with the proposed ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to block enforcement of any laws that ban abortion before fetal viability – around 26 weeks. Supporters need to collect 383,923 signatures by July 3 to get the issue on the ballot – but said they had already collected 250,000 signatures as of Jan. 12.

It Goes Too Far is the campaign opposing the ballot initiative. It says the initiative’s language, which would allow “health care professionals” to provide abortions, would open the procedure to practitioners who are not qualified medical doctors. It also says a section allowing abortions after fetal viability “to protect the life or physical or mental health” of the pregnant woman would open the door to late-term abortions.

A sign at Friday's March for Life in Phoenix reads “Reza El Fin Del Aborto” (Pray for the End of Abortion). Arizona Life Coalition Executive Director Garrett Riley called abortion "the most blatant human rights violation." (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
Erin P. Getz, the state march program director for the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, speaks at the March for Life rally in Phoenix on March 1. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
Marchers walk down West Adams Street during the March for Life at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix on March 1. The event included many students from area Catholic schools. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
State Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, along with other state legislators, speaks at the March for Life rally at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza on March 1. “Abortion care is not health care,” Bliss said. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
A marcher holds a sign reading, “Sacred Selections Adoption,” during Friday's March for Life at the Arizona State Capitol. “Everyone deserves a birthday,” said Garrett Riley, executive director of the Arizona Life Coalition. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
Marchers pause at the March for Life to pose for a photo in front of the Arizona Capitol Museum. The march comes as court rulings and ballot initiatives could radically alter abortion law in Arizona. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)
A woman holds up a placard during the March for Life at the Arizona State Capitol. This year's march came the same day that major pharmacies said they would start dispensing abortion drugs. (Photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

“Reasonable people can have … different opinions on abortion but we can all agree that this goes too far,” Olivia Escobedo, the political director and spokeswoman for the campaign, said at Friday’s rally. “A majority of Arizonans do not support late-term abortion, but they don’t know the whole story and it is up to us to shine a light on what the other side is doing.”

Lisa Barlow agrees. The longtime March for Life attendee, who said she opposes the ballot initiative, was collecting signatures at the rally for Republican candidates for federal and local races.

“I want people representing me in Congress and in the state Legislature and all through the government that is pro-life, that respects life,” she said.

The rally was held before the CVS and Walgreens announcement about mifepristone, one of two pills used to terminate pregnancies of up to 10 weeks. President Joe Biden called it an “important milestone” in a written statement Friday.

March for Life responded with a call for a boycott of the pharmacies in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying “pharmacies should be places that provide medication to help life, not end it.”

But Angela Florez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the fight in Arizona is far from over.

“All Arizonans deserve the freedom to make their own choices about their bodies, their families, and their futures – hard stop,” Florez said in an emailed statement. “We will not stop until we secure reproductive freedom for all Arizonans.”

Lillie Boudreaux lihl-iy boo-droh (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Lillie Boudreaux expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. She was a social justice reporter at the Cronkite News Washington, D.C., bureau and a 2023 White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship recipient. She has interned at Al Arabiya News and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. She also worked as a reporter for ASU News and on the Arizona PBS digital team.

Kevinjonah Paguio(he/him/his)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Kevinjonah Paguio expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in global studies. He has interned at the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, is now an intern with AZ Big Media and has freelanced.