Orlando protesters march for women's rights as rallies organize across country
Rallies for women’s rights came together all over the country this weekend. In Orlando, protesters marched Saturday through downtown to mark 50 years since the Roe vs. Wade decision.
A group of about 200 protesters marched through the heart of Orlando’s downtown during what would’ve been the 50th anniversary of Roe versus Wade, which established a U.S. citizen’s constitutional right to an abortion. The near-half-century ruling was overturned last June. Since then, Florida, under Gov. Ron DeSantis, has become a battleground state for abortion and women’s rights activists.
Leading the charge through Orlando was District 42 Representative, Anna Eskamani.
"Our goal today really is to rally the troops to rally everyday Floridians for reproductive rights for our freedoms and to send a message to politicians who are now the supermajority as Republicans that Floridians do not want abortion bans," Eskamani said.
Abortion is still legal in Florida, however, Gov. DeSantis signed a law last year creating a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. A state judge ruled the ban “unconstitutional” but DeSantis filed an appeal to temporarily block the judge’s ruling, meaning the 15-week ban is in effect in Florida.
Gov. DeSantis, who recently won re-election, has a Republican supermajority legislature and it is believed they will work to further restrict abortion this year.
"I do suspect that it could be a six-week abortion ban. That's what states around us have done. And it's a way to say that you're not completely banning abortion, even though the majority of folks do not know they're pregnant by six weeks," Eskamani said.
Given Florida’s political landscape, abortion rights activists aren’t feeling confident about women’s rights in the near future. Debbie DeLand, president of the Florida Now and Greater Orlando Now activist groups, says rallying troops has been difficult in the face of failure.
"Passion and outrage are still there," DeLand said. "But people are disheartened and tempted to give up because we know we're gonna lose. We're gonna lose in the short term. We're not going to lose in the long term and we're not going to give up we're going to work in the long term."
Nicole Benton, 33 of Orlando, isn’t hopeful for the short term as state lawmakers prepare to convene for the 2023 legislature in March. However, that didn’t stop her from marching downtown along with her 8-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. She believes anti-abortion laws unfairly target communities of color.
"A lot of marginalized groups such as black women, like myself, oftentimes don't have access to health care, not just reproductive health care, but health care in general," she said. "And so because there's not always equitable access to health care I think that abortion bans will further disproportionately affect marginalized communities."
Benton knows that pro-choice advocates face an uphill climb in Florida. Still, that’s why she’s here marching with her children.
"I think that it's important not to just bow down and accept the restrictions and the bans that are being put into place," she said. "I think it's important to keep fighting for our freedoms, no matter how grim it may look. Because one-day things may turn around. Unfortunately, it doesn't look very bright right now. But my hope is that I can keep fighting for my children so that they can one day have the freedoms that we don't have right now."
Jade LeBrock, 33 of Orlando, attends rallies regularly to help keep support in the women's rights movement strong.
"It helps me see that from a more in-person perspective when I come to these events because I know there are people that are passionate, there is a progressive shift here in our state, it just has to keep going. And we need more people to be a part of that. Otherwise, it will still get drowned out by the headlines. And that couldn't be further from the truth," LeBrock said.
Not all attendees felt the same. There was a small group of counter-protesters across the street from City Hall, carrying pro-life signs and a megaphone of their own.