Thousands gather for rallies on reproductive rights across the Tampa Bay region
Organizers of rallies in Tampa encouraged people to register to vote, contact their state and local representatives and vote for pro-choice candidates in upcoming elections.
Updated Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
Thousands of pro-choice advocates marched and rallied Saturday across the nation, state and greater Tampa Bay region.
Events were held in conjunction with the national Women’s March Day in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Bradenton and North Pinellas County.
Organizers say the events are in response to new abortion restrictions in Texas, which ban abortions once a "fetal heartbeat" is detected, typically about six weeks into pregnancy, before many people even know they're pregnant. Doctors have said that term is misleading.
Hundreds of protestors took part in two events in Tampa on Saturday. Groups of people met at separate rallies downtown and then marched to City Hall.
Kristen Arnaud, who organized the "Our Bodies, Our Choice" rally that began in Perry Harvey Sr. Park shouted through a megaphone, leading attendees in call-and-response chants including "They say no choice, we say pro-choice," and "If this is what democracy looks like, then this is what hypocrisy looks like."
She called attention to similar efforts to restrict abortion access in Florida. State lawmakers are considering a similar bill to the one that passed in Texas and Manatee County officials are looking to ban abortion locally.
Protesters carried signs with statements like "No Uterus, No Opinion" and quotes from the late Supreme Court Justice and abortion rights champion Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Cars honked in support as they marchers weaved their way through the city streets.
After the rallies conjoined at city hall, speakers urged the crowd to continue fighting for abortion rights at future demonstrations and at the ballot box.
“We plan on taking this fight as far as humanly possible because at a local level, if we don’t do anything, we are the next Texas,” said Desiree Rochelle, who organized the “March For Reproductive Rights” in Tampa that began at MacDill Park.
She encouraged people to register to vote, contact their state and local representatives and vote for pro-choice candidates in upcoming elections.
Pro-choice advocates argue that the Texas ban threatens the protections under Roe vs. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortions.
A bill modeled after the Texas law was recently filed in Florida ahead of the next legislative session which begins in January.
“It’s kind of scary, because these men [state leaders] don’t know anything about us or our bodies and they’re making decisions that don’t really affect them in any way and they’re kind of just trying to wipe the whole slate, they’re not even thinking about the possible benefits of reproductive health care or anything like that,” Quinn Sparacino, 19, said during the Tampa rally.
Her friend Chloe Davies echoed similar sentiments and said safe access to abortion is an "important part of health care."
"It can save lives and save women's lives who aren't ready to give birth or aren't financially ready, physically ready, or emotionally ready," she said.
Legislation that would have prohibited an abortion if a doctor could detect a "fetal heartbeat" failed during Florida's 2019 legislative session.
Tampa resident Jane Strom, 75, said she is concerned that this year will be different.
“This time, the opposition to reproductive rights is much more solidified and energized than it has been before and it has the political will in many ways to make more headway and I can’t allow myself to say that it might succeed because it’s my worst nightmare." Strom said. "I now have children and grandchildren and this affects my grandchildren. I hope they never need an abortion but it should be an option for them. Reproductive rights is everything for women’s rights.”
Strom wore a t-shirt celebrating the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and carried a sign that said “Our bodies, our choice.”
“Here in Florida our governor and his Republican-dominated legislature in Tallahassee have the power to pass virtually whatever laws they want, and they are going to parody Texas," she said. "Vigilante justice should have no piece here in Florida. It’s a crazy idea and it should be thrown out by the courts and not supported in Tallahassee.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed a bill into law in 2020 which requires a minor to receive parental consent to terminate a pregnancy.
Earlier this month, the Manatee County Commission voted 4 -3 in favor of requesting legal advice from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on whether the county can adopt a local abortion ban.
Some attendees pointed out that reproductive rights are not purely a “women’s issue,” and that conversations about abortion rights need to be inclusive of trans, nonbinary and gender fluid individuals who can also become pregnant.
“There’s a lot of humans who do not identify as women who also need access to reproductive resources, of which one part is abortion, and I don’t think we talk about that too often,” said local activist Sam O., who chose not to share their full last name because of concerns regarding their immigration status.
They also stressed Black and indigenous people of color are often disproportionately affected by restrictions to abortion and said they hope events like this call attention to the need to address systemic racism in health care and other aspects of life.
Protesters also chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "Trans rights are human rights" throughout the march.
The demonstrations were peaceful with marchers respecting traffic signals and staying on the sidewalks.
In St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park, thousands were reported to be in attendance at the "Bans Off Our Bodies" rally. They marched peacefully along the waterfront to the St. Pete Pier Saturday evening.
Earlier that morning hundreds gathered in downtown Bradenton and marched from the Riverwalk Park to the Manatee County Courthouse.
And several events took place in North Pinellas County including protests outside U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ office in Tarpon Springs and Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls' office in Clearwater. Both Republican lawmakers have supported restricting abortion.