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FIU students on both sides of abortion debate protested, prayed after Roe was struck down

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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About two hundred abortion rights supporters gathered on FIU's campus on Monday June 27, 2022 to protest the end of Roe. Meanwhile, just across the campus green, about 20 people gathered to pray and celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Hundreds of people across South Florida have taken to the streets to protest the end of Roe. For many others, the Supreme Court decision is cause for celebration. Monday evening, students on both sides of the issue gathered on both sides of a campus green at Florida International University. Some came to protest — and some came to pray.

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Roman Catholics like Emily Chaffins have been praying for this moment for a long time.

“We pray rosary novenas, which is like a whole 54 days of praying the rosary and praying it specifically for this moment,” Chaffins said. “We just feel so blessed in this moment.”

Chaffins says she’s a lifelong Catholic. She’s also a student at Florida International University, where she’s involved with the Catholic Panthers campus ministry, which hosted a prayer vigil on the school’s campus Monday evening.

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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About 20 people gathered at FIU's campus on Monday June 27, 2022 to give thanks for the overturning of Roe. Jose Santana lead the group in praying Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

She and about twenty others gathered on the Graham Center lawns in the middle of FIU’s campus — some holding signs reading, “pray to end abortion,” “abortion hurts women” and “contraception is dehumanization.”

“We are trying to work to make abortion not just illegal but also unthinkable,” Chaffins said. “And that means that now we’re going to be working on the state level.”

Jose Santana led the group in praying Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

“Holy Mary, mother of joy, give courage by your example to those who greet the news of their pregnancy with fear,” Santana prayed. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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An attendee at the event hosted by the FIU Catholic Panthers campus ministry closes her eyes in prayer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lawn, abortion rights supporters could be heard chanting, “my body, my choice.” Santana and the others continued to pray.

“Holy Mary, mother of joy, pray that all our laws may protect and defend the innocent life which lives within each mother’s womb,” Santana said.

At times, people walking by would yell at the group as they prayed.

Polls show that not only do most Americans support abortion rights — so do most American Catholics.

The roughly 200 people who gathered on the other side of the campus lawn for an abortion rights protest easily outnumbered those who came for the prayer vigil.

Carrying signs that read “abortion saves lives” and “SCOTUS Bogus,” they marched around the campus, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, abortion ban has got to go!”

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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The crowd of abortion rights supporters who gathered at FIU on June 27 easily outnumbered those who gathered for a prayer vigil just across the campus green.

Miami Dade College student Nathalie Saladrigas says she’s still in shock that a constitutional right can be erased with the stroke of a pen.

“What do you mean, you might overturn it? Like that makes no sense,” Saladrigas said. “If you place it in the beginning, why do you take it away now?”

Saladrigas helped organize the abortion rights protest at FIU. She says the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision isn’t consistent with what she sees as fundamental American ideals — the separation of church and state and the importance of individual freedoms.

“Just because you believe a certain type of thing because of your religion doesn’t mean that it should affect me. Because that’s why we have freedom of religion in this country, right?” Saladrigas said. “You can believe your own thing. I’ll believe my own thing. And I believe in pro-choice, you believe in pro-life. Ok! Go ahead, do your own thing. But don’t affect me.”

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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Public polls show that not only do most Americans support abortion rights, so do most American Catholics. Public support for access to the procedure is even higher among women and young people.

Amanda is an FIU grad and was raised Catholic. She says she grew up going to St. Agatha, the church that the Catholic student group is affiliated with.

“I feel for them. I came from that, you know?” she said, referring to the group on the other side of the lawn. “I remember being 11 going to pro-life rallies.”

She asked not to use her last name because she’s worried that protesters will be targeted.

At some point, Amanda says her thinking on abortion changed.

“You start meeting different people from different walks of life, and your perception changes. And you don’t follow this hard set of rules,” she said. “I think it’s just important to have different thoughts, instead of it being dictated to you.”

Amanda says she doesn’t mind that the Catholic group is praying for them. It’s important to have a diversity of opinions, she said — and the freedom to live out what you believe.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter