Abortion rights advocates took to the streets of downtown Delray Beach and elsewhere around South Florida and the state Saturday as civil rights and other liberal groups seek to deflect proposed state laws by conservatives to ban the procedure.
Sponsored by Women’s March National, more than 600 events were planned nationally as advocates sought to extend a show of political force that started in 2017. Other Florida events took place in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, the Tampa Bay area, Fort Myers, Pensacola and Tallahassee, collectively drawing thousands of people. The mission: protest restrictive laws regulating a woman’s right to choose.
In Delray Beach, marchers and politicians took aim at a new Texas law that bars abortions after about six weeks. The law’s measures include a permission provision for informants to report abortions to the authorities.
On a warm afternoon, a crowd estimated at around 200 gathered at Old Schoolhouse Square to hear state and local politicians denounce the law and warn against a growing conservative movement against women’s rights.
Their message: this is no time to be complacent.
State Sen. Lori Berman blasted the Texas law — and a recently filed bill in the Florida Legislature that reflects it. She urged the demonstrators to “flood” state lawmakers in Tallahassee with objections by phone and email.
“Let them know this is not acceptable,” Berman said. “We are not going backwards.”
“Register to vote,” she added. “Make sure all of your friends vote and make sure they vote only for candidates who support abortion rights.”
Other speakers including Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia followed with a similar theme. Urging demonstrators to register to vote and to remain mindful that the nation’s women still need to rally to pass an Equal Rights Amendment that failed to draw enough support among the states to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Then, with town police running interference at intersections, the crowd marched to the local courthouse across Atlantic Avenue from the city’s tennis center.
The bill would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, generally at about six weeks, although the science is disputed as to whether a heartbeat exists before seven weeks of gestation.
“This is outrageous, said Telene Thomas, organizer of the Delray event. “These medieval laws are not only a threat to women’s health, they are a threat to their legal, civil and economic status as adults.
The crowd was a mix of young and old — including those who fought for reproductive rights before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortion in 1973 — as well as many who were born thereafter.
There were no signs of counter-protesters and police in the street said they had heard of no incidents.
But during a speech by Florida State Rep. Omari Hardy, a man called out from the crowd, “What about the little girls in the womb?”
The unidentified man repeated the question twice after Hardy denounced “Folks in Washington, D.C., pretending that they know better for a woman and her body than herself.”
Women in the crowd quickly responded.
“If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one!” snapped one audience member.
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“Vasectomy!” called out another. “Her body, her choice.”
The man then departed the rally without incident.
Hardy, who is from West Palm Beach, is among several candidates seeking to fill the congressional seat vacancy created by the death of the late Alcee Hastings.
Some in this country, Hardy told the rally, “don’t believe apparently that people other than white men should have a say. There are some folks who don’t believe in democracy at all. There are some folks who don’t believe that a woman should have a right to make choices about her body.”
A number of veteran abortion right campaigners in the crowd said they are ready for a few more rounds, including Gloria Stein, 82, of Delray Beach, who said she has met activist Gloria Steinem seven times.
“She knows I’m a Florida groupie,” said Stein, the mother of two daughters. “Every time she signs a book, she signs it, ‘the other Gloria,’ I have a sense of honor, I‘ve been through a lot of challenges but my sense of humor keeps me alive. Rallying keeps me alive.’