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story.lead_photo.caption People take part in the March for Life on the grounds of the state Capitol in Little Rock on Sunday. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

As anti-abortion signs dotted the crowd outside the state Capitol on Sunday afternoon, abortion opponents celebrated political and legal wins and reaffirmed their opposition to a landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

Hundreds of abortion opponents crowded in front of the Capitol building Sunday for the 40th annual March for Life, an event that took place on the eve of the 45th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. The decision from the nation's top court affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion.

Abortion opponents came from around central Arkansas to Little Rock, where they heard speeches from high-ranking state Republicans and songs from a children's choir.

"We are not to decide who lives and dies," said Anne Dierks, an abortion opponent who traveled from Hot Springs Village for the event.

Attendees carried a wide array of signs and posters during the event, which was sponsored by Arkansas Right to Life.

"I am pro-life," one sign read. "Unborn lives matter," read another. "Choose life," said a yellow sign in black text.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered a brief address and stressed the state's anti-abortion efforts. Americans United for Life has ranked Arkansas as one of the top anti-abortion states in the nation.

"We have achieved that because we believe in the life of the unborn," Hutchinson said, garnering applause from the crowd. "But there is always more work to do."

Hutchinson said he was pleased to cut Medicaid funding from the nonprofit health care provider Planned Parenthood, and reported that he has signed more than five pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the first three years of his administration.

In last year's legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers passed Act 45, which bans a common second-trimester procedure. Opponents of the law say the procedure is the safest method available at outpatient facilities, while supporters of the law have called the procedure "barbaric."

The law is being challenged in federal court.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge delivered the keynote speech at the event and said it was her honor to fight legal battles for the unborn.

"One day, our country will find its way back to protecting the sanctity of life for the unborn," she said.

The Republican leader cited multiple legal wins and said she would continue her work.

Last week, a Roman Catholic bishop announced he would not participate in the event due to Rutledge being picked as keynote speaker, saying in an open letter that she had "worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to society."

Bishop Anthony Taylor wrote that while Rutledge has "good anti-abortion credentials," she was not an appropriate March for Life speaker.

"The Church teaches a consistent ethic of life in which human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between," his letter read.

As the crowd dispersed from the Capitol grounds, Camille Richoux stood with a sign criticizing Rutledge.

The sign, in part, read: "The death penalty is pro-death, racist, & inhumane." Richoux said it was hypocritical for Rutledge to support the March for Life, given her support of the state's execution of death-row inmates.

Richoux was also an organizer for the eighth annual Rally for Reproductive Justice, which took place in front of the Capitol building on Saturday.

The Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, which put on the event, defines "reproductive justice" as the right to choose whether and when to have children, and the right to parent those children in safe, healthy environments.

At Sunday's March for Life event, state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said multiple members of the state's congressional delegation had planned to attend the event but had gotten tied up in Washington.

Seconds later, he read a letter from U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., who wrote that he was in Washington working to end the shutdown of the federal government.

Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life, said she was pleased with the turnout and mentioned that many of their supporters had abortions before becoming abortion opponents.

One of those women is Elizabeth Beckwith, who said it was her fourth time attending the march in Little Rock.

Beckwith said she had an abortion more than three decades ago, and felt shame and guilt afterward. Now, Beckwith said she can use her experience to show younger women they have many options besides abortion.

"I also know I can use it for God's good," she said.

Information for this article was contributed by Emma Pettit of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 01/22/2018

Print Headline: Abortion foes rally at Capitol; hundreds of people denounce Roe v. Wade 45 years later

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