On Saturday, June 24, the Gainesville Chapter of National Women's Liberation (NWL), the Gainesville Radical Reproductive Rights Network (GRRR), and Planned Parenthood all met at the Alachua County Courthouse to protest for the right to equal access abortion care with the goal to petition for abortion to be on the ballot in 2024. The Chair of the NWL Gainesville Chapter, Emily Calvin, outlined why everyone was present.
“We are all here to show our support for abortion rights, access to reproductive healthcare, and reproductive justice. This is the anniversary of Roe V. Wade being overturned, the Dobbs Supreme Court decision. We are here to show that we didn't support it then and we still don't support it. We're not going to go away until all these oppressive laws that are taking away our rights, and our freedoms until they're stripped away. Until we have access to all the reproductive healthcare that we need and all the rights that we deserve.”
Roe V Wade was overturned on June 24, 2022. The Dobbs decision marked a historical turn, disregarding nearly 50 years of precedent. Since the overturning, in Florida we had one publicly reported case of a woman being forced to carry a fetus with no kidneys and no chance of survival to term. Kai Christmas, the Regional Organizer at Planned Parenthood of the Southeast in North Florida, believes there are many more cases like this one that aren’t being publicly reported on.
“I can't even begin to think of what those numbers could be. I absolutely know that more is happening than what we're hearing about. Doctors are scared. They're scared that they're gonna lose their license for providing legitimate medical care to pregnant people, and that's fucked up. That should not be the world that we're living in, but it is.”
Organizers started setting up around 4:30 pm and began speaking at 6:00. Laura Blecha, a member of the steering committee for the Gainesville NWL Chapter was the first to take the mic and reminded everyone that bodily autonomy is an inalienable human right.
“Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right. History and the lived experience of millions of people tell us people are going to continue to have abortions, no matter what the law says. It's not okay that people have to risk their lives just to exercise their reproductive freedom. Whether or not that risk comes from criminal penalties or unsafe conditions, it's not okay. If someone is able to get pregnant they need to be able to decide whether they want to be.”
Following Blecha’s speech, Christmas took the stand. They spoke on the need for people of all different skill sets to succeed in the abortion rights movement.
“In the past 365 days, I have seen so many people step up to the plate for bodily autonomy in so many different ways, and that’s exactly what we need. No matter what you can do, do something. If your strong suit is policy and legislative advocacy, come on over because we need you. If your route is education, we absolutely need you. There are so many people that still don’t even know what an abortion is, what it does to your body, or the importance of it. If your thing is direct services, driving people to clinics, giving them gas money, helping them in recovery, we need you… Everyone has a part that they can play in this. You just need to find yours and stick with it. The government has shown itself time and time again that it's not going to take care of us, but we will, we have to. It's our only way forward. We cannot rely on the same systems that oppress us to be the ones that will save us. They will never do that.”
Another speaker was Alena Vargas, a volunteer at Planned Parenthood. Vargas emphasized the fact that abortion is medical care with her own personal experience.
“Ten years ago, I myself had a miscarriage. The laws then allowed me to receive the healthcare that I needed in the emergency room. No questions, no politics were in that room with me. I was given medication so that I could actually go home. Thankfully, everything worked out. I now have two beautiful children but I will always be afraid because I am a part of the 1% of women with a bicornuate uterus. Automatically high-risk pregnancy. That's what happened my first time. I'm worried that, today, under these laws, if that were to happen to me again, I would not be so fortunate in that emergency room.”
Vargas went on to speak about how Christmas introduced her to Planned Parenthood and gave her the opportunity to tell lawmakers her story.
“I told them that if they go through with this, they vote yes, you're going to be killing women just like me. We all know they didn't listen. We all know it went in one ear and out the other. That's why this ballot initiative is what we need to do because that is giving the people a voice, the right to choose, not the government. The government does not need to be involved in personal choice.”
The abortion ballot initiative was started in May by activist groups around Florida with the goal of gaining 1.3 million signatures to put a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to abortion on the ballot. Rory Miitello, a member of the GRRR network, says the protest was successful in collecting signatures and recruiting volunteers to go out and get the forms signed.
Activist groups have collected around 250,000 signatures in the six weeks since the ballot initiative started. With the minimum requirement being 900,000 and the deadline being February 1st, 2024, abortion rights activists are on track to go well beyond the minimum requirement of signatures, as well as their personal goal of 1.3 million.
Blecha informed the crowd of the necessary information to know before signing the ballot. The petition has to be signed in person with a signature that matches your voter registration, so it cannot be filled out online. The form can be printed and filled out at home and must be turned in or mailed to the Civic Media Center or another petition hub location around Florida no more than 7 days later as it only has 30 days to get counted. A PDF copy of the petition is available at floridiansprotectingfreedom.com and can be found here.