Dozens gather in downtown St. Pete to mark Roe v. Wade anniversary

Activists with NOW, Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters spent the Monday lunch hour waving signs at 2nd Street and Central.

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click to enlarge Dozens gather in downtown St. Pete to mark Roe v. Wade anniversary
Kate Bradshaw

Directly on the heels of the second annual Women's March and rally in St. Pete and other cities, activists once again donned their pink hats and took to the streets.

This time, they crowded the four corners at the intersection of Second Street and Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete to commemorate the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the monumental and still very controversial case, which granted abortion rights to women across the nation. Advocates for access to women's health said the anniversary is a reminder of how far women have come in terms of their autonomy and of how much abortion opponents have fought to erode it.

"Every year, we are here to remind ourselves and the public that the right to women's control of their bodies was hard-fought," Linda Varonich, president of the Pinellas chapter of the National Organization of Women and an abortion rights advocate since the ’70s, told CL.

click to enlarge Dozens gather in downtown St. Pete to mark Roe v. Wade anniversary
Kate Bradshaw


"We have to remember our history lest we repeat it," she said. "They're constantly taking away our ability to think for ourselves, whether it's funding or religious misapplication...so we have to remain focused and preserve what we have achieved."

The St. Pete event brought out at least 50 people, most of them women, which Varonich said was a much bigger turnout than in previous years.

Lauren Brenzel, director of organizing and grassroots outreach for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said the amount of interest surrounding women's access to healthcare probably has something to do with the state legislature and U.S. Congress repeatedly trying to erode access to abortion, birth control and science-based sex ed.

"In the last year we've seen a ton of attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights in general," Brenzel said.

click to enlarge Dozens gather in downtown St. Pete to mark Roe v. Wade anniversary
Kate Bradshaw

Despite Republican majorities at the state and federal levels, abortion rights advocates have managed some victories. Earlier this month, a Tallahassee judge struck down the state's controversial 2015 abortion waiting period law, which required a day between the patient's initial visit with a healthcare provider and the procedure itself, as unconstitutional.

Brenzel said current concerns of hers at the state level include the Constitutional Revision Commission, which could "roll back" medical privacy rights in Florida, as well as Senate Bill 444, which would foster so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" with a solid taxpayer-funded revenue stream each year. Women's health advocates are also concerned about what the U.S. Supreme Court might do now that Trump could appoint another conservative if any current juror retires, which could upset the Court's tenuous ideological balance — especially when it comes to abortion rights.

Opponents of abortion rights tend to base their views about the procedure on religion and on the notion that it equates to killing a human. They advocate for things like abstinence-only sex ed as an effort to, ostensibly, prevent unwanted pregnancies.

But abortion rights advocates say, despite the vitriol and hyperbole surrounding the issue, most people actually agree on one thing: in a perfect world, there'd be no abortions, except, perhaps, in rare medical situations. It's just that pro-choice activists think access to information and birth control and, as a worst-case scenario, abortion, is a more compassionate and effective approach than an all-out ban on the procedure and shutting down the facilities that offer it.

"We both realize that the reduction in unwanted pregnancies is what everyone wants," Varonich said. "We try to reach out, but it is very confrontational, and it's the folks in Washington and Tallahassee that make our lives miserable when they don't appreciate the fact that we [have] a valid concern to maintain the integrity of our bodies."

The National Organization of Women's Erin Pelton said there's a correlation between access to abortion and other science-based reproductive services and a drop in the number of abortions.

"We also know that when access to abortion goes up, abortions go down," she said. “Because it also goes hand in hand with sex education, it goes hand in hand with birth control. I mean, if you don't want abortion, you need to teach people how they get pregnant and give them the ability to not get pregnant."

She added that treating the procedure like an evil scourge rather than one of many tools for responsible family planning, one that can help women maintain their autonomy, has detrimental consequences for women.

"If we don't have control over our own healthcare, we won't have control of anything else," Pelton said.

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