South Miami-Dade demonstrators demand protection of reproductive rights at rally
Last month an abortion ban in Texas took effect, leaving people in the state without the choice of terminating pregnancies after six weeks. Now a similar bill has been filed ahead of next year's Florida legislative session.
The Florida Heartbeat Act, known formally as House Bill 167, would prevent doctors from performing abortions once a heartbeat is detected. At six weeks, many people don’t know they are pregnant.
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In response, people of all ages gathered at Colonial Drive Park this past weekend to stand up for reproductive rights. Signs like “Ruth Sent Me” and “Bans Off My Body” decorated the field as about 250 protesters listened to various speeches. Many of the speakers stressed the importance of calling their Florida legislators and telling them to vote no on the proposed bill.
“We have the right to have autonomy over our body,” said Kelli Ann Thomas, one of the rally organizers. “Regardless if you believe in abortion or not, you as a women should be able to make that choice for yourself and not have that right infringed upon by the government.”
Thomas works with Florida Rising, a political organization focused on empowering black and brown communities. She said this ban especially impacts women of color, who are often overlooked by the government and healthcare system.
“The government should be for the people, and listen to the people and protect people,” Thomas said. “If you are someone who wants to preserve life don't, once that child is born, go against it with racist policies.”
Ali Crane is a family nurse practitioner at an OBGYN office. She hopes Florida doesn’t follow Texas and impose such a “strict” and “scary” ban. She said the bill would deeply impact her professional life.
“I think it’s very important for my patients and their families to be able to make the decision that’s right for their bodies and their lives and their financial situation, their emotional situation,” said Crane. ”Who’s to say what’s the right and wrong choice for anybody except the person themself?”
Crane attended the march with her 12-year-old daughter. She believes it’s important to empower her and her choices.
“She’s coming up on that age where her sexual reproductive rights could be at stake right now,” Crane added. “I think it’s important for her to understand, and for her friends to understand, that they have a right as a woman to do what they want with their bodies.”
Crane’s daughter was one of many young girls in attendance. From toddlers to college students, Generation Z members of the crowd stood alongside veteran demonstrators.
Camila Ustarez, a 21 year-old student at Florida International University, said it is discouraging to still have to defend reproductive rights.
“We thought we were past it, but clearly we’re not,” she said. “We see older women here with signs that say, ‘Do we still have to be protesting this?’ We feel like we’re making a change in women’s rights, but then this happens.”
She says the proposed ban is scary for young women, who should have access to healthy and safe abortions. The protest’s large youth turnout surprised Ustarez — especially all the young girls. She stressed the importance of girls learning to stand up for their freedom of choice.
Nathalie Schwart, a freshman at Coral Gables Senior High School, came to the march to have her voice heard.
“For future generations, everything that happens now well I think it does impact the future,” Schwart said. “We’re growing up knowing that we don't have equal rights. That just puts a lot of people down.”
Schwart said although she’s had sex education at school, the topic of abortions has never been discussed. Florida allows individual school districts to determine how sex education is implemented. Districts can choose between an abstinence-only, an abstinence-plus, or a comprehensive approach. Now that she’s in high school, Schwart hopes that she and her peers will be exposed to more information.
“I think it should be talked about more — When things are talked about, that’s when change happens,” Schwart said. “Like I don’t know if many guys in my class know about it so hopefully in the future people can become more educated.”
She was glad to see such a large turn out, including members of her temple. Rachel Greengrass is the rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. She said that healthcare is very important in Judaism. Although the stance towards abortions varies between rabbis, Greengrass says that Judaism defines life starting at the first breath.
“What is hard for me is when people use religion as an excuse to dictate that a woman's physical health and mental health are not as important as the potential of a life,” Greengrass said.
She said forcing people to have children goes against what she views as holy and correct. Instead of taking away choice, Greengrass thinks the government should focus on providing support and social safety nets for women and families that are struggling.
“If you’re truly a religious person and you value life, then you need to take care of the people who are currently alive and breathing,” she said. “A lot of people focus so much on a fetus in utero, when we should really be focusing on children once they are born and when they grow up.”
Women weren’t the only ones protesting for reproductive rights. Husbands and sons showed up in solidarity for the people in their life that would be impacted by abortion bans. Throughout the march when women chanted “my body” they would chant “her choice.”
36-year-old Kelly Rock Gomes said when it comes to reproductive rights, men should support the representation in government that women want. He attended the march with his wife.
“Every time we let our foot off the gas, things like the Texas law come into play,” Gomes said. “We have to show up and keep this top of mind for the community.”
Gomes encourages people to become proactive and get involved in community events. He said it’s easy to post on social media or have an opinion, but doing the work is what will enact change.
“If women were doing to men what men are doing to women, I’m sure they would have a problem with it too,” Gomes said. “But it seems to be something that they ignore, unless we come out and voice our opinion so that they vote how they need to vote.”
This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Reproductive rights advocates fear the justices could potentially overturn the precedent set by Roe v. Wade.