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‘This fight didn’t begin here and it’s not gonna end here.’ South Florida joins in protests against SCOTUS Roe v. Wade decision

·6 min read
‘This fight didn’t begin here and it’s not gonna end here.’ South Florida joins in protests against SCOTUS Roe v. Wade decision

Frustrated activists took to the streets in every corner of the country on Friday, including in Florida.

Their goal? To protest the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that stripped away the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion that had stood for nearly a half-century.

At rallies across South Florida, they crowded busy street corners and public parks to fight against the decision. Their message was clear: They refuse to return to a reality where men dictate what happens to their bodies, their lives, their families and their futures. At least, not without a fight.

In Fort Lauderdale, about 300 activists, politicians, parents and children gathered at Esplanade Park Friday evening, exhausted but happy to be in each other’s company.

“This fight didn’t begin here and it’s not gonna end here,” said Emma Collum, the organizer of the protest. Collum works for Ruth’s List, an organization that seeks to put pro-choice candidates in office. The name, when spoken aloud, sounds like “ruthless.”

”Sometimes we are,” Collum said.

“We’ve been asleep for too long,” she said to the crowd. “We’re facing the consequences now.”

Several generations of women came out together. Jennifer Cohen, 48, brought her 17-year-old daughter, Sophie Williams.

“She’s the result of Loving, is that next?” Cohen said, gesturing to her daughter, who is half Black.

Williams said she was here to support “what we think is the good side and what most people think is the good side.”

Dr. Arlene Armarant, a Republican, came with her daughter, Tracy Merlin, a staunch Democrat wearing a clothes-hanger necklace, and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Stella Merlin.

Armarant and her daughter disagree every day, but this issue, Tracy Merlin said, is “not a point of contention.”

Rallies in Palm Beach County grew tense as dusk approached.

About a hundred people gathered along Atlantic Avenue near Old School Square in Delray Beach.

Frustrated and angry, people of all ages held signs and chanted to voice their displeasure with the Supreme Court.

“It’s a scary feeling,” said Dejah Maldonado, 21, a student at Florida Atlantic University who came to protest with her friend, Christina Priest, also 21.

Mellina Julian, 22, and Sidenei Franca, 23, also came to protest, calling the decision a rollback of human rights. For Julian, she is scared of her future now that her rights have been taken away, she said.

“It’s ridiculous,” Franca said. “Nine people made this decision and majority of them are men.”

For the older generation, the decision felt like a reversal of hard-won rights.

“What they did today is an abomination. This should not have happened,” said Elizabeth Ackerly, 71. “The scariest thing is what is going to happen to those who are poor, or women of color, or those who can’t travel to other states.”

For the most part, rally-goers were met with supportive honks, cheers and waves from drivers heading down Atlantic Avenue.

However, a truck carrying Trump supporters cruised by with a giant banner to harass those at the rally, circling the block where protesters stood and blaring “Celebration” and “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Despite a tense moment when one Trump supporter from the truck strode through the crowd carrying an American flag, the rally stayed peaceful.

On the Great Lawn in downtown West Palm Beach, where close to 100 people gathered Friday evening, local organizers, elected officials, and attendees took turns addressing the crowd of people. Some were tearful, some solemn and some angry.

Children from infants to teens, men and women, people of color and LGBTQIA+ people were in attendance.

Congresswoman Lois Frankel; Dr. Joan Waitkevicz, president of the Democratic Women’s Club of Palm Beach County; Erica Esch, a representative of Planned Parenthood; and Ilean Zamut of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus, kicked off the West Palm Beach protest with their remarks, among others. All urged protesters to vote in November and to encourage their friends and family to vote, too.

Frankel called the day a dark one across the country and said it was like a strike of lightning hit her when she heard the news.

”For the first time in the history of this country, the United States Supreme Court took away a fundamental right,” Frankel said. “For the first time.”

It’s not only the right to an abortion that’s at risk, Frankel said. She pointed toward a part of Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion where he wrote that “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

The decisions in those cases are what have allowed for access to contraceptives for married couples, same-sex sexual relationships and same-sex marriage in the U.S.

“All those rights are on the line. This decision does not just affect pregnant people. This decision affects every American in this country,” Frankel said to applause.

Isabella Ortiz, an 18-year-old University of Florida student who volunteers at Planned Parenthood, attended the rally with her mother, Miriam Figueroa, 58. Despite her Christian faith, Figueroa said she’s pro-choice and came to support her daughter.

”The woman has to decide,” she said. “The court, no one has to decide. She has to decide.”

Ortiz said her mom woke her up and told her of Friday’s opinion. She was in disbelief.

”It feels like your world is collapsing because we’re transgressing, we’re going backwards,” she said.

Figueroa came from Cuba when she was in her 30s. By the time she left Cuba and came to the United States, abortion was legal in both places. She believes no matter the law of the land, women who decide to have an abortion will find a way, leading to unsafe and potentially deadly procedures.

”When the women decide to have an abortion, it doesn’t matter. They’re going to have it,” Figueroa said. “And they’re going to die and it’s going to be very bad.”

Ortiz, a first-generation, Black and Hispanic American, said she thought of the harm marginalized communities may now face in a world where Roe is overturned.

”However, not everyone has access to those resources because we’re not coming from privilege,” Ortiz said. “Hearing about this, it’s like not only are you attacking me as a woman, but you’re attacking me as a Black woman, as a Hispanic woman.”

Fran Sachs, president of the Emergency Medical Assistance, said today felt as if a loved one in her life died — like a prolonged sickness that she anticipated to come to an end soon. And Friday it did.

“The rest of the world goes on and the grass is green and the sky is blue and we live in this paradise and yet we’re suffering this pain,” she said.

Sachs said when the Emergency Medical Assistance unofficially formed prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the organization flew women to New York to have legal abortions. She’s worried a similar day could come in the future for Floridians.

Fl. Gov. Ron DeSantis promised as much after Friday’s decision, saying his administration would work to “expand pro-life protections.”

“It simply tortures me to know that that’s where we’re at,” Sachs said. “Fifty years later, we’re back to that.”

Brooke Baitinger can be reached at: bbaitinger@sunsentinel.com, 954-422-0857 or on Twitter: @bybbaitinger

Angie DiMichele can be reached at adimichele@sunsentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @angdimi.