They gathered in the tens of thousands across Florida on Saturday, motivated by the urgency of a constitutional right that they see threatened by the Legislature, which is expected to copy a restrictive abortion law in Texas, and the Supreme Court of the United States, where Roe v. Wade’s decision is at stake after nearly 50 years.
“The point is, these are women and it matters to everyone,” said Cherie Crim, who organized a protest of 100 people in Panama City, upstate. Panhandle.
They were also motivated by a belief in something even greater: the rights of half of humanity.
In the state capital:March for gender justice and women’s rights draws hundreds to Florida Capitol
On the Treasure Coast:Florida abortion proposal sparks women’s March events in Stuart, Fort Pierce
“I am extremely sad that in 2021 women still do not have basic human rights,” said Emily Fingerhut, 32, of Fort Pierce, who organized a rally attended by 150 people in his town after hearing about a planned rally in the nearby Treasure Coast town of Stuart, on the central southeast coast, where another 300 people gathered on Saturday.
“If people were really pro-life, they would support free healthcare and contraception and allow us to own our own bodies,” she said.
Overall, around 60,000 people were believed to have demonstrated in 50 cities across Florida throughout the day, in rallies that appeared to spark a new wave of activism. Certainly, they date back to January 2017, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets nationwide to defend rights to healthcare and contraception in the early days of the Trump administration.
The marches were also part of a series of events which organizers said seek to raise awareness of long-standing women’s issues such as abortion, equal pay and sexual assault while also broadening the platform. -form to include immigrant rights, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression and environmental protection.
National rallies for reproductive rights
Saturday’s protests came a day after the Biden administration urged a federal judge to block Texas law, which has banned most abortions in the state since early September. A similar proposal was tabled in the Florida legislature on September 22.
And on Monday, the Supreme Court begins a new term in which the conservative 6-3 majority court can overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973, which legalized abortion for generations of American women.
Siblings Hades Ferrell, 13, and Emily Ferrell, 20, were among the youngest participants in the Space Coast Women’s Rally and March in the east-central coastal city of Melbourne.
“It’s horrible what’s going on right now and honestly unbelievable,” said Emily Ferrell. “I just don’t want our rights taken away, or anyone else’s.”
She added that reproductive laws affect everyone, no matter who they are.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a woman, a man – it’s going to affect you no matter what,” she said. “You have to watch what’s going on in the world.”
In the town of Fort Myers, in southwest Florida, about 600 people took part in the march on Saturday. Men, women and children lined a city street, chanting “my body, my choice” and “Roe, Wade”.
Most carried signs saying “Keep abortion legal”, “My body, my choice, my freedom, my voice”, “Ruth sent me” – a reference to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – and “Never go back”, with a picture of a hanger.
In nearby Naples, nearly 40 counter-protesters began lining the steps of the Collier County courthouse where speakers planned to deliver their message to around 300 protesters. Most of the counter-demonstrators were groups of students from Ave Maria University, a private Catholic university in Ave Maria. They held up signs saying “Abortion stops a beating heart”, with a drawn image of a fetus in a womb, and chanted “God is not dead! “
Countless times throughout the event, speakers with microphones begged the counter-protesters to be respectful and to make their side heard, without loud interruptions.
Florida Abortion Rights Law
The renewed push in Tallahassee to reduce or even cancel abortion rights is nothing new in Florida. It has been a decades-long quest by pro-life groups and lawmakers.
In 2019, for example, a Panhandle lawmaker introduced a bill that would effectively ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, an initiative by reproductive rights advocates at the time declared the most anti-abortion bill. extreme never filed in Florida.
The so-called fetal heartbeat bill, HB 235, introduced by GOP lawmaker Mike Hill, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian from Pensacola, reportedly required doctors to notify women seeking an abortion if the fetus has a heart rate and provide the ability to see or hear the heartbeat. Women who refuse must do so in writing.
Had this legislation been approved, doctors who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected could have faced a third-degree felony charge. Fetal heartbeats are normally detected around six weeks after the onset of a pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
“This is the most extreme bill that has ever been introduced in the United States,” said Amy Weintraub, director of the reproduction rights program for Progress Florida, in early 2019. “It is clearly unconstitutional to all of us. respects and this is a blatant attempt to end access to abortion care for Florida women. “
At the time, Hill argued that the bill would not ban abortions in Florida.
“This is not an attempt to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body,” Hill said in defense of the bill, who pointed out that the bill provided exceptions in cases of rape, incest, human trafficking or when the mother’s life is in danger. “The aim is to protect the life of the unborn child.”
In Tallahassee on Saturday, over 100 activists gathered in Railroad Square before marching to the Florida Capitol. They were greeted by 100 other advocates for choice and gender justice.
Mary Madsen, a 29-year-old Tallahasseean, took part in the walk and carried a sign that read “Cervix public announcement, my ovaries, my choice”. Madsen said she made the decision to have an abortion while attending veterinary school in Alabama. She was 26 at the time.
“It just wasn’t something I was ready for, I was trying to be a doctor,” Madsen said. “I want everyone to be able to have this right when they are not ready.”
And last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis clashed with some life advocates in his own Republican ranks when he didn’t specifically shut down clinics. abortion even though many businesses were closed.
One big difference in Florida’s efforts to limit abortions is the metamorphosis of state and federal courts over the past two years.
The conservative majority of the United States Supreme Court recently left in place a very restrictive abortion law in Texas. Like the Federal High Court, the Florida Supreme Court also has a much more conservative set of judges.
It has emboldened pro-choice lawmakers who now see less chance of a court overturning a hard-fought and politically heavy legislative victory.
Legislation introduced in late September would ban abortion in Florida when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs six to eight weeks after conception. Currently, abortion is legal for up to 24 weeks in the state, and later for emergencies.
Enforcement of the legislation would be based on the filing of civil complaints against offenders in exchange for monetary compensation. The bill also removes the word “fetus” from Florida law in favor of “unborn child.”
Earlier this year, Republicans at State House introduced yet another abortion bill, the Florida Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have reduced the legality of abortion to 20 weeks, but it didn’t has not gone beyond the committee level.
Advocacy for women’s health
Nearly 75,000 abortions were reported in Florida in 2020, up 4% from the previous year, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. About 1,500 of them occurred on the Treasure Coast.
“Very few women here (are) pro-abortion,” said Barbara Lengen, 63, of Fort Pierce, who stood outside the downtown federal building during Saturday’s protest in Fort Pierce. “I believe education is the most important thing, and providing women with proper health care and free birth control.”
Lengen wore a T-shirt that read “Girls just wanna have basic rights”.
About half a dozen pro-life counter-demonstrators gathered in front of the participants in the Women’s March. Lengen said she walked through US 1 to have a brief chat with them.
“I believe in fairness for everyone, men and women,” she said. “Women my age feel like we’ve had to fight for rights all of our lives.”