As black clouds threatened rain, about 20 pro-choice protesters lined Florida Avenue in front of Southgate Shopping Plaza Friday evening, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal protections for a woman’s right to have an abortion, allowing each state to rule on the matter.
Cheryl Alexander, 64, held a pink “Bans Off Our Body” sign and said she remembers women’s rights protests happening when she was a teen-ager. She contrasted those with a recent anti-abortion protest.
“What appalled me is the number of teen-aged girls and young women at the March for Life protest,” she said. “They don’t even know the right they’re throwing away for themselves, their friends and the women they don’t even know.”
Police officers monitoring the protest asked one of the women not to use a megaphone, and she complied.
Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, had a much different take. “It’s a very historic day and I honestly never thought I’d live to see this day, but what an incredible day it is,” she said. “We’re putting right sided something that has been wrong for half a century.”
Stargel, who is running for Congress, sponsored an abortion-restriction bill this year that was passed by the Legislature, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and takes effect July 1.
The “Fetal and Infant Mortality Reduction” bill outlaws abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy unless the life of the pregnant woman is at stake, or she “faces serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function,” or the fetus has not achieved viability under state statute and is deemed in writing by two doctors to have a fatal abnormality.
The gestation period is “calculated from the first day of the pregnant woman’s last menstrual period,” which could add at least two weeks to a pregnancy.
Stargel said she has dedicated her career to overturning Roe v. Wade because of her experience as a 17-year-old high school student who got pregnant. She and her then-boyfriend John, who was a 19-year-old college student at the time, decided to keep the baby and get married. He is now a judge on the Florida Second District Court of Appeal.
“When I went down to Planned Parenthood, they said … ‘You’re not going to finish high school. You’re not going to be able to accomplish your goals. You’re going to have this baby, he’s not going to stay with you. Even if he does marry you statistically, he will not be there. You’re going to be a single parent,’” Stargel recalled. “I mean, basically talking me into an abortion. And we chose not to do that. As far as all of the details, I mean, I believe that it is a life. And I think that the baby should not have to suffer for the way in which it was conceived.”
Under Article I, Section 12, Florida’s Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, which is at the legal heart of the abortion matter.
“Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein,” it states.
Stargel said that while the Florida Constitution protects privacy, she feels that the 1989 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court was “wrongly interpreted.”
In the 1989 case, T.W. was an unmarried, 15-year-old who participated in band and flag corps, worked 20 hours a week, baby-sat a younger sibling for her ill mother, and planned to finish high school and attend vocational school or community college. She was in the first trimester of pregnancy and petitioned the court for a waiver of parental consent for an abortion, stating that the father agreed with the decision, she was mature enough to give an informed consent to the abortion, she had a justified fear of physical or emotional abuse if her parents were requested to consent, and that her mother was seriously ill and informing her of the pregnancy “would kill her.”
A guardian ad litem appointed to represent the girl argued that the parental consent law’s judicial bypass “was unconstitutionally vague and that parental consent must therefore be required in every instance where a minor seeks to obtain an abortion.” A trial court agreed, but a district court of appeal declared the entire statute invalid, quashed the trial court’s order requiring parental consent, and ordered the petition dismissed.
The guardian then filed a number of motions to block the abortion but was unsuccessful and T.W. lawfully ended her pregnancy.
Despite that, the Florida Supreme Court heard the case “because the questions raised are of great public importance and are likely to recur.”
Justice Leander Shaw wrote in the majority opinion: “Florida’s privacy provision is clearly implicated in a woman’s decision of whether or not to continue her pregnancy. We can conceive of few more personal or private decisions concerning one’s body that one can make in the course of a lifetime, except perhaps the decision of the terminally ill in their choice of whether to discontinue necessary medical treatment.”
In 2020, the Florida Legislature passed another parental consent law for an abortion and DeSantis signed it into law.
Stargel said the Legislature in recent years has worked to make adoptions more affordable for working-class parents, but acknowledges it could do a lot more.
The state pays for state workers to adopt and the Legislature recently approved providing Medicaid for up to a year for mothers and babies.
But according to adoptflorida.org, private forms of adoption can cost upwards of $30,000. However, “Adopting one of Florida’s children from foster care costs little or nothing. The required adoptive parent training class and home study are provided free of charge, and even court costs and fees can be paid by the agency if the family cannot afford them.”
Stargel said women having abortions could be contributing to driving up the cost of private adoptions.
“It shouldn’t be as expensive. There’s something to look into find out why it’s expensive. Unfortunately, there’s not been enough of we’ve done things that we could do at the state level,” Stargel said. “Probably a lot of it may have even been supply and demand. You know, everybody’s having an abortion. So there’s not — even if people want to adopt — it probably is a little bit cost prohibitive. … So it is absolutely something needs to be looked at and I would support whatever we could do to support women who are having the babies and support people who are wanting to adopt them.”
She added that couples who don’t want children should utilize birth control.
“What we need to change is that culture of protecting life and recognizing that this is a life and you need to do everything you can to be responsible,” Stargel saidf you’re doing activities that you can get pregnant with them — to do everything you can not to get pregnant, you know and recognize that that’s an outcome that can happen and be aware of that and not just look at it like, ‘Well, we can just have an abortion.’ That’s what needs to change. We have to have a culture of life.”
Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health and abortion provider, filed a lawsuit to block Florida’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
Stephanie Fraim, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, which includes Lakeland, said the Supreme Court has now given politicians across the country the power to control what people can do with their own bodies.
“This means millions of Americans will no longer be trusted to determine the course of their own lives. This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the Southeast and beyond, forcing people who can afford it to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for abortion care in Florida and other states where at least some access is still protected,” Fraim said.
She continued: “This ruling eliminates the federal constitutional right to privacy around abortion, but the Florida state constitution still protects that right. The Florida 15-week abortion ban, which will go into effect July 1st, is clearly unconstitutional, which is why Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and other plaintiffs are suing to stop it. We will not sit idly by while our freedoms are stripped away like this — we will not stop fighting for our rights.”
The Planned Parenthood office on Edgewood Drive does not provide abortions, but does offer reproductive and sexual health care and education. Lakeland Women’s Health Center on South Florida Avenue performs abortions. An employee outside of the clinic on Friday said office officials would not comment about the Supreme Court ruling.
Stargel said Republicans have been discussing a ban on all abortions in Florida.
“I know that there have been some that have had discussion about it. I know that Florida’s a pro-life state, we’ve had legislation that we’ve fought for years that I’ve worked on,” Stargel said. “And so you know, at this point, you know, a lot of the states around us have banned it further than we have. So I think there’s gonna be incredible pressure. And I believe all life is important and I’d be anxious to see what else we did to further protect life.”
Gov. DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders praised the Supreme Court decision today but stopped short of calling for a special legislative session to ban the practice entirely, The Orlando Sentinel reported.
MORE LOCAL REACTION: The Ledger
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