Separate Friday events touch on two pressing, difficult topics

In Wichita, Take Back The Night took a stand against sexual violence. In Topeka, the Kansas Supreme Court took a stand against banning abortion. Though the two events weren’t related, both speak to some of the most pressing, and difficult issues that women face.

Here’s what happened.

Take Back the Night (TBTN) came to Wichita Friday, bringing hundreds of people out to a downtown rally in public protest against sexual violence.

After audio problems delayed the start, two survivors gave powerful speeches about their experiences with sexual assault and how it’s impacted them and their family’s.

Using first names only, Jo-Jo told the crowd the questions people asked her after learning she’d been raped —  “What were you wearing?” “How long did you know the man and how well?” and “Were you drinking?” were common.

She said the most helpful question she was ever asked was, ‘What can I do to help?’ but few people asked her that, she said.

Surrounding the speakers were information tables from local organizations specializing in domestic violence, shelters, counseling, the courts, law enforcement, and medical care. 

After another speaker, the march kicked off around 8:30 p.m. The boisterous crowd followed a police escort about three quarters of a mile around the rally point. The evening ended with a survivors’ circle for sharing personal stories of trauma.

TBTN is known as the earliest global stand against sexual violence, starting in the 1970s.

Multiple organizations in Wichita make TBTN happen annually. A joint committee decides what to showcase and how best to support survivors of sexual violence. The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center plays a key role.

Mary Stoltz, Director of Survivor Services for WASAC said the organizers stand for justice and empathy. They march to “stop the shaming and blaming of victims in general while decreasing the sense of isolation,” she said.

“Part of our mission statement is to create a culture of intolerance around sexual assault,” Stoltz said.

Supreme Court Ruling

Also on Friday, in a different part of the state, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled a recent abortion ban unconstitutional. Though the march and the court’s decision focused on decidedly different topics, women who have been raped and impregnated by their attacker face the burden of deciding what to do next.

In a 6-1 decision, the court ruled that the state constitution upholds a woman’s right to abortion. The ruling blocked a 2015 law that banned the most commonly used procedure for second-trimester abortions, arguing that the state constitution protected the right of women to “decide whether to continue a pregnancy.”

Kansas was the first of 11 states to ban the abortion method in 2015. Only two of those states have the ban in effect at present. Nine of them found that the ban is a violation of the bill of rights through a series of court cases and challenges that continue to change the rules for abortions and their availability.

The court sided with the plaintiffs in the case — two physicians who had performed the surgical procedure.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court case law, the justices said the ban would present an “undue burden to women” seeking to end a pregnancy, finding that the state’s bill of rights “affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s own body.”

Friday’s ruling means the law, which banned the abortion procedure, will remain blocked. Because it’s based on the state constitution, abortion would remain legal in Kansas even if the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, that ruled that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional, is ever reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case comes amid other changes to U.S. abortion laws. Republican-controlled legislatures have dialed back access to abortions, taking down other medical services and providers for women in the process. The result is that six states now have only one abortion clinic, the New York Times reported in April.

Rape-Related Pregnancy

Women impregnated by their rapists must come to terms with the discomfort of raising their rapists child when deciding whether or not to carry their pregnancy to term.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in December 2018, (Rape-Related Pregnancy and Association With Reproductive Coercion in the U.S.) almost 2.9 million U.S. women experienced rape-related pregnancy during their lifetime.

The CDC says rape-related pregnancy is, “a public health problem where sexual violence and reproductive health intersect.”

The Sunflower spoke to Stoltz about the court’s ruling after Friday’s march.

She was quick to point out that WASAC does not take an official position on abortion. It’s outside the realm of what they do and what they provide, but she said she understands there’s a connection.

“One thing I’ll say, I understand as a feminist how important these laws are and how the big picture sometimes gets lost,” Stoltz said.

Stoltz said she’s never really seen state abortion laws have much of an effect on her dialy work with survivors over the last 12 years. But she noted that there’s always a chance that abortion will be made illegal and that could have a rippling effect on rape survivors.

“We have access to it in the city that I work in,” Stoltz said. “I know there’s always a threat that they’re going to change the legality of it, but in my experience, it hasn’t changed much.”

What does pose a threat to WASAC’s services is more nuanced and centers around program funding, she said.

“I don’t think any legislator is going to come out and say, ‘I think rape is good,’ but there are ways to push us to the back burner and make it more difficult for us to work,” Stoltz said.

“People will push us to the back burner because it’s not that important to them. To me, it’s whether or not you see sexual violence as a major public health concern. I definitely think it is.”