What we saw and heard at the St. Petersburg rally to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

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St. Petersburg rally to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News (22 Jan 2024).

Women’s rights groups gathered Monday in downtown St. Petersburg to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. It’s an annual event, but this one was larger than normal after the Court overturned Roe in 2022.

More than 150 supporters of abortion rights lined the four corners of a busy downtown St. Petersburg intersection around lunchtime. About six anti-abortion activists rallied peacefully alongside.

Shelley Manes is a volunteer with the League of Women Voters of Florida and spoke during the rally about abortion access and a constitutional referendum on abortion rights that could be on Florida’s ballot in November.

Well, I took a headcount just before noon, and it was over 40. And it has, I would say, doubled since then. I would say this is close to 100 people, mostly women. But great, thank you, for some men, supporters and advocates being out here with us. There’s a wide range of ages, I’ve seen what looked like college students up all the way through retiree. There’s one woman here with a very young baby, and she’s chanting along and giving love to the movement. So why today? Well, it’s a big anniversary date. Two or three people have already told me that seven years ago today, they were in Washington for the Pussy March or the whatever. That was such a point in time where women and progressive people felt so devastated and yet weren’t ready to just throw up our arms and do nothing

SK: Seven years ago in St. Petersburg was a giant march as well.

That’s right. I was at a town and wasn’t at either one of them.

SK: What can you say about the possibility that there might be a ballot initiative on the November ballot in Florida?

Well, I am one of many volunteers who worked our fannies off to get the petitions signed in the number that we needed. And I gotta say, the other side made it as difficult and puzzling to fulfill all of the requirements just to get the petition count. And now, we still have the hurdle of the Florida Supreme Court approving the ballot language. We’re feeling good about that. But it has to be argued on February 7th. And their decision is due by April 1st, that the language is okay to be on the ballot. And there’s no appeal to that there’s no ‘Oh, can we rewrite it?’ It’s just yes or no. And then once we hope, and really believe that’s going to be approved, we’ve got to get 60% of the vote in favor of the ballot language and the referendum. So we’re nowhere near done. These people know that. And we’re going to try to continue the energy from the petition gathering to getting out the vote, educating the voters. That’s a big thing for the League of Women Voters, voter education. And I’m all in.

– Shelley Manes

Bree Wallace is the director of case management with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund.

I think this is an amazing turnout, especially for a Monday and it’s a little bit chilly out. Floridians aren’t used to that. There’s so many great people, so many great signs, and it’s very heartwarming to see all the support for us still.

SK: Do you have an idea of why there might be so many people today?

I think, you know, after Roe, people really got that rage in them that our rights got taken away. And they know how important it is to come out and show that they’re still supporting people getting access, even if we don’t have Roe even anymore. Even after the Dobbs decision. It’s so important to be a community together for that abortion access.

SK: My last question has to do with the possibility that there might be in November a ballot initiative on abortion. How do you think that that campaign impacts the Tamap Bay Abortion Fund?

I really hope it gets on the ballot, I hope the Supreme Court goes for it, there’s no reason they shouldn’t. And if we do get that it’s going to mean the world to Florida because we’re gonna go back up to viability. It’s no longer going to be 15 weeks or six weeks. So people here are going to be able to access abortion a lot easier. Other than there’s still the financial hardship and traveling even just to other counties and cities within Florida. So there’s still a barrier to access even if we get that back that we have to remember that not everyone can afford an abortion or travel. And there’s also the good news of if we go back to viability, people from other banned states in the South can continue to come here to get an abortion.

– Bree Wallace

Scott Mahurin is with Florida Free Born Rescue, a pro-life advocacy group. They also demonstrated along a street corner.

“My sign says ‘Stop Abortion Now.’ There’s a few of us out here from my organization. We’re just here to represent the other views of Tampa Bay. There’s a lot of pro-life people in Tampa Bay. And so we want to send the message that all life begins at conception, that human life is sacred and must be protected by love and by law. So we know that they planned this protest. And when we do different protests and events, sometimes we have pro-choice people come. So we come out peacefully when they do their stuff that’s public. So just raising awareness that there’s more than one view on this issue, and that our hope is that all human life is protected by love and by law.”

– Scott Mahurin

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