Tampa Bay grappling with likely Roe v. Wade overthrow

News that the U.S. Supreme Court was planning to overturn its nearly 50-year precedent protecting a person’s right to an abortion spread across Florida and Tampa Bay on Tuesday, sparking a variety of reactions ranging from fear to elation to confusion.

For anti-abortion leaders, the leaked ruling was the decisive victory in the long-running battle to give states the right to criminalize pregnancy termination.

“It’s surreal,” said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the conservative Christian Family Policy Council of Florida. “We’ve worked our whole lives for this moment and it’s hard to believe this is actually happening.”

For abortion providers, advocates and supporters who have worked to protect a person’s right to choose, the proposed ruling was a devastating blow to bodily autonomy, with massive medical and financial consequences.

A matter of health

When Annie Jae Filkowski saw the news of the Supreme Court leak Monday night as she walked to get groceries after a long day at work, her stomach dropped, she said — a feeling that she had never felt in half a dozen years of working in reproductive rights.

Abortion protections have come under increasing attack in recent years as state legislatures across the country have moved to impose restrictions on who can terminate a pregnancy and under what circumstances. Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a 15-week abortion ban.

Yet for Filkowski, who is based in Orlando and is policy director at the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, the reversal of Roe vs. Wade was the biggest threat to date.

As she read the headlines Monday night, Filkowski thought about the people she’s met in her job.

There was the homeless woman who didn’t know she was pregnant until she ended up in the hospital at 18 weeks. There was the 11-year-old girl who “didn’t know what sex was,” Filkowski said, until she was raped by a parent.

“Abortion is liberation in a situation like this,” she said, referring to the child. “It sends shivers down my spine thinking of her.”

As news spread on Tuesday, activists and advocates like Filkowski stepped up and protests were planned on both sides of the bay.

At the University of South Florida, Ben Braver and Ava DiGilio stood outside the library and handed out flyers for a protest later Tuesday night.

Braver, a sophomore, joined USF’s Planned Parenthood Chapter last year.

“Help save Roe vs. Wade?” he asked as people carrying backpacks rushed past.

“Shit, yeah! some students responded, while others asked about what the decision change would mean.

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Braver said he is passionate about protecting reproductive rights because he believes abortion is health care and health care is a human right.

Emily Levesque, a native of Tampa and a student at USF, agreed.

“I have to be able to make decisions about my body and my future,” Levesque said. “Every aspect of our lives is inherently political. Everyone should care.

freedom and faith

Reverend Len Plazewski, pastor of Christ the King Church in Tampa, said the overthrow of deer is long overdue.

Plazewski, like many anti-abortionists, said he believes life begins at conception. The argument that abortion is a health care procedure negates the welfare of the baby, he said.

“We miss the point if we focus on the issue of (abortion) safety,” Plazewski said. “What about the safety of the child who is killed?”

Plazewski said instead, the focus should be on providing people with resources if they have an unwanted pregnancy.

“The church never said you had to raise a child — I know many couples who would like to adopt children,” Plazewski said.

This is a position that has been widely embraced by religious communities, which have been catalysts for the anti-abortion movement.

But the Rev. Andy Oliver, pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, said it was not that simple.

“Our bodies were created by God, who gave us autonomy over those bodies,” Oliver said. “Often the religious voices that are heard on this are the ones that do harm, so it’s important that people of faith who believe in reproductive justice speak up.”

Reverend Clarence Williams, pastor of Greater Mount Zion AME Church in St. Petersburg, said he fell somewhere in the middle.

Although he opposes abortion, Williams said he was in conflict with the possible overhaul of Roe vs. Wade.

Now 63, Williams recalls growing up in Polk County when black people couldn’t give birth in area hospitals and when segregated cemeteries were filled with the bodies of young people who tried to terminate a pregnancy. by themselves.

“I’m not a fan of trying to tie public policy to the biblical word,” Williams said. “I would hate for mothers to go out and look for untrained people to try to terminate the pregnancy…and do something that might harm them.”

The road ahead

Although the leaked draft notice indicates the reversal of Roe vs. Wade is likely, the court has yet to formalize it.

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, confirmed the document’s authenticity at noon on Tuesday, but said it was not a final court decision.

Mathew Staver, attorney and president of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based law firm that champions religious liberty cases, welcomed the draft notice.

“It sets a new day when the court is more in line with the intent of the Constitution,” he said.

Patrick Leduc, a conservative Tampa attorney who has handled cases involving religious rights, celebrated the ruling from afar.

“It’s thunder,” said Leduc, who read the opinion Tuesday while deployed overseas with U.S. Army Reserves.

He said the decision allows for a democratic process to take place and for decision-making at the state level, as provided for in the Constitution.

“We can make those decisions based on how we feel here in Florida State,” Leduc said. “We can do a better job of solving it than someone in Washington, DC”

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson Law School, took a different tone.

“My legal community is on the progressive side, so it was met with horror,” Torres-Spelliscy said. “It is truly unusual for the Supreme Court to take away a right that has been set forth by a previous Supreme Court.”

Times staff writers Hannah Critchfield, Divya Kumar, Jack Evans and Dan Sullivan contributed to this story.

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