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Arizona protesters march for women's rights

Scores of demonstrators marked the opening day of the Legislature by decrying several laws from last session they said eroded women's rights, including one that allows employers with religious affiliations to deny contraceptive coverage in health plans. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Julia Shumway)

PHOENIX -- Barbara Matteson said she hass watched women's rights regress since she demonstrated on the Capitol lawn 30 years ago.

Carrying a picture of herself at that long-ago rally during a demonstration Monday, the retired Tucson teacher pointed to a new law allowing employers with religious affiliations or stating religious beliefs to exclude contraception from health coverage. She also has seen laws through the years restricting access to abortions.

"I never in my life had to think about not being able to use contraception for family planning," Matteson said. "That's a little like going back to the Dark Ages. In a way, I see some things in this state going in reverse, and that really upsets me."

As the legislative session began, Matteson joined scores of women and men urging lawmakers to repeal laws from last session that limit access to contraception and abortion.

Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, a physician, said he intends to work with other legislators to "fix" some of those bills this session.

"We just had an election and women's issues were a big issue in the election," he said. "Those legislators that support women got elected, and that's what happened to me."

Many in the crowd dressed in hot pink and brandished signs asserting independence over their bodies. They danced to a bluegrass band and later sang "Respect" and "You Don't Own Me."

Chandler resident Karyn Lathan, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for state House in the fall, said state government shouldn't just undo the laws but pass new ones supporting women's rights. A key to that is electing more women, she said.

"We need to have women standing up for women," Lathan said. "Men just don't get it."

Phoenix resident Nancy Quaggan said she's fortunate that she and her daughters are able to afford a doctor's care and don't need to rely on organizations like Planned Parenthood, which a new state law bars from receiving state funds for women's care because it provides abortions. A federal judge's ruling in October blocked that law from taking effect.

"If you start taking away one part of it of an area, you're going to be affecting everybody, not just women," said Quaggan, who lives in the southeast Valley.

Wearing a pink button supporting the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, Jim Burton of Sahuarita said upholding women's rights benefits everyone.

He has made the two-hour drive up to Phoenix many times to speak to legislators and participate in demonstrations.

"People paid to represent the state don't seem to represent everyone in the state," Burton said. "You have to remind them."

Meanwhile, Judy Hoelscher brought her daughter to the Capitol to hold a counter-protest. They held signs decrying Planned Parenthood.

"They're not lobbying for women's rights," Hoelscher said. "They're lobbying for the taxpayers to pay for abortion against my beliefs and to pay for contraception for someone else. It's your responsibility to pay for contraception yourself. Don't make me pay for it."

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