Hundreds protest SCOTUS ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in downtown Fort Myers
Joining demonstrations across the country, Friday, about 200 people converged outside the old Lee County Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier that morning, overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Until Friday’s ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Roe v. Wade had established the constitutional right to an abortion. Millions of Americans will lose access to abortion care as bans in 13 states automatically take effect – and more could follow.
One of the event’s organizers was Vice President of the Lee County Chapter of the National Organization for Women and Women’s March Fort Myers board member Kathy Mayo.
“We knew it was coming,” said Mayo, referring to the draft decision from Justice Samuel Alito that was leaked in May.
“But there’s always that little bit of hope that some sanity reigns, and it didn’t. So, we’re out here because we want to make people know that the majority of people in this country want people to have a choice. We want women to have authority over what happens to their bodies just like men do,” said Mayo.
Caroline Randall of Naples was among the attendees carrying a sign reading “Ruth sent us,” in reference to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice and champion of women’s equality and abortion rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“About 60 years ago, my mom was a volunteer for Planned Parenthood up in Ohio, so my family grew up understanding the importance and the gift that was given when we were younger, of the availability of birth control and women’s rights, and to be able to go forward and live our lives and make a choice when we wanted to have a family,” said Randall.
A broad cross section of age demographics was represented at the demonstration and Randall said she was grateful to see younger women there.
“I was talking to them and thanking them for being here…I was saying to them, even though I’m in my 70s, they have no way to really understand what this could be like and I think that’s unfortunate for a lot of younger people because they’ve had the privilege throughout their whole lives. So, they really don’t know. A lot of them don’t know,” said Randall.
“I am tired of the far-right extremist Christian nationalists in this country telling us what to do with our bodies. This is a gateway to not only push their culture war agenda, but to keep women under their thumb, under a misogynist, patriarchal system,” said Banyai.
“This is a dire time in the United States, a dire time for freedom and democracy. Our leaders in this country have even been stepping away from the word ‘democracy’ because they don’t want us to vote. They want to make decisions for us,” said Banyai.
“They know that 80% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal. They know that 97% of Americans believe we should have a regulated gun market,” said Banyai, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision just a day earlier, ruling that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
“The far-right Christian nationalists have taken over the Republican party and what used to be a party of values and freedom, and co-opted it to turn us into Gilead,” said Banyai.
Gilead is the fictional totalitarian theocratic state that’s taken over the U.S. in Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” now a popular television series. Several women dressed as handmaids in red cloaks and white bonnets also attended the demonstration in silent protest.
Friday’s SCOTUS ruling has no immediate effect on access to abortion in Florida, but Cathy Mayo said she’s worried about what the Florida legislature could do going forward.
“We’re expecting that next they’ll be going after contraception and that is so frightening in so many ways. It’s going to make people take a long hard look at their lives and at the communities they live in and their power; Their power to persuade and their power to educate,” said Mayo.
Demonstrator Matthew Pownall of Lehigh Acres also expressed concern about the future of abortion access in the sunshine state.
“I think DeSantis, with his positioning to run for President, he would be very inclined to try and push for a full abortion ban or something similar to Texas, like a six-week abortion ban,” said Pownall.
“I can’t imagine he would let this pass and not take the opportunity to make something stricter to boost his profile even more.”
The demonstration remained peaceful. A couple of counter-protesters stood at the edge of the sidewalk along Main Street in front of the courthouse lawn, and a small crowd of demonstrators gathered in front of them chanting, “My body, my choice,” to drown out their megaphones.
Meanwhile, a series of impromptu speakers at the protest took turns with a microphone sharing their own stories, frustrations, and words of encouragement.
“I feel really grateful to be here with this energy and people who are fighting for the right cause and that I’m not alone,” said Frankie Orion of Naples.
“I’m not alone in the grief and the hurt that I had felt this morning either. Just being together with like-minded people and knowing that there are people that want to protect woman and protect us,” Orion said.
“There is definitely comfort in knowing that and having friends and family and allies and everyone here together.”
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