Hundreds of pro-abortion rights demonstrators march in Gainesville ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ rally

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Beads of sweat trickled down at least 600 pro-abortion rights demonstrators’ faces, but the sweltering Gainesville summer heat did not stifle their cries for reproductive rights.

“Not the court, not the state, we alone decide our fate,” they chanted.

Their voices crescendoed as they marched down University Avenue in droves from Bo Diddley Plaza to the Cora P. Roberson Park Saturday morning, demanding and defending the right to an abortion. Cars accompanied their shouts, honking as they sped by, and passengers cheered out the windows.

Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida organized the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in response to the leaked initial draft Supreme Court majority opinion that strikes down the Roe v. Wade decision. The landmark case protects a woman’s individual privacy and her liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Although the opinion does not reflect the final position of the Court, if unchanged, it would transform the reality of reproductive health for women in the United States.

Parents hoisted young children on their shoulders while teenagers, college students and grandparents clenched signs that read: “Let’s talk about the elephant in the womb” and “If I wanted the government in my uterus, I’d f*ck a senator.”

The mood: outrage, exasperation and empowerment.

Gainesville resident Stephanie Birch, 33, holds a sign during the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, which shows over 50 marks of protesters who have had abortions. “I wanted to create a space where women could say, anonymously, … I have done this too,” Birch said. (Carissa Allen/WUFT News)

This resentment echoed across the United States Saturday as abortion rights supporters participated in rallies nationwide organized by a coalition of national organizations including the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Women’s March and other advocacy groups.

Jane Lee Comiskey, 58, traveled to Gainesville from Mount Dora for the rally. Adorned in a pink pussyhat, she said she fought for women’s reproductive rights before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

“And here I am still,” she added. “It’s enough, enough, enough. We should be able to make our own decisions about our bodies.”

Another protester, Jane McNulty, observed the rally removed from the crowd, propped in a lawn chair with her dog, Molly, on her lap. The 64-year-old Gainesville resident attended the protest to advocate for young women’s rights to a procedure that she had access to and underwent when she was 17 or 18 years old.

“I had an abortion,” she said. “I have zero shame about it, and it frightens me that young people are now suddenly going to lose that right.”

As “my body, my choice” chants surrounded her, she said she found hypocrisy in many Republicans’ demands for bodily autonomy in opposing mask mandates and vaccine requirements.

“Republican leadership appears to be fine with interfering with women’s rights, that affect no one but that individual woman, but yet they scream bloody murder about wearing a mask to protect others,” she said.

Like McNulty, some demonstrators, including Stephanie Birch, were compelled to attend the rally to protect a right they exercised.

Birch had an abortion in her early 20s and said she wanted to show solidarity for other women who underwent the procedure that is now threatened and stigmatized.

“I feel like I’ve had to hide that I’ve had an abortion,” the 33-year-old Gainesville resident said. “I always felt like I didn’t really know anyone else who had had one because it’s something you can’t really talk about.”

Pro-abortion rights protesters cluster in droves at Bo Diddley Plaza Saturday. They mobilize to march down University Avenue to Cora P. Roberson Park as part of the Gainesville “Bans Off Our Body” rally. (Carissa Allen/WUFT News)

She was not surprised by the Supreme Court’s draft opinion, but reading, “choking down” and digesting Justice Alito’s language was onerous, she added. That is when the reality of the disproportionate impact the decision could have on marginalized, low-income women sunk in.

Those who already have trouble accessing health care will be most impacted. Karine Dieuvil, a 21-year-old organizer for Dream Defenders, said in Gainesville, specifically, Black people do not have health care equity. On the east side, she said residents have only one grocery store — a Walmart — let alone a primary care practitioner or a gynecologist.

This is coupled with the fact that minorities receive lower-quality health care and are more likely to face complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as Chanae Jackson, a self-proclaimed “accidental activist” in Alachua County, acknowledged in a speech at the rally.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion access would vary depending on the state. Justice Alito was adamant that the Constitution does not reference abortion, and as such, it should not be protected by a constitutional provision.

Starting July 1, abortion will be legal in Florida up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. However, the fall of Roe v. Wade could open the door for the Florida Legislature to pass harsher laws within the coming months or during the 2023 legislative session.

“Florida…has been putting forth very extreme attacks on abortion rights,” said Kai Christmas, the regional organizer of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. “I can only imagine that that is going to increase if Roe falls.”

Christmas, 25, said the draft opinion is gut-wrenching but wants Gainesville residents to know abortion care is legal for now.

Planned Parenthood will continue to resist, just as it demonstrated in the rally, to ensure its doors stay open.

About Carissa Allen

Carissa is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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