Alachua County leaders react to Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of the historic Roe v. Wade decision that has long constitutionally protected abortion rights for women sent shockwaves throughout the nation Friday.

Though the controversial 6-3 decision was anticipated after a leaked draft surfaced in May, many are calling the decision an attack on human rights and bodily autonomy for women.

President Joe Biden on Friday called the reversal of the 50-year law a solemn moment that risked the health and life of women around the country. Nearly half the states around the country are expected to now pass laws banning abortion and possibly banning medications. Biden vowed to ensure women have the ability to travel to states to seek treatment where permitted and called on Congress to do so.

In Alachua County, a region known for its activism and progressive policies, elected leaders also expressed frustration and sadness.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said the reversal "will create a public health crisis in America."

"The court's action has eliminated safe access to abortions, using proper medical procedures," he said. "Women will still seek abortions, but they will be reserved for those who can afford to travel to where they are safe, or they will be done in back rooms with no safety measures or protections. This is a devastating ruling for all women."

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Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said she was disappointed.

“It is quite disappointing but expected," she said Friday. "And I am very concerned about this court and how far back they are going to roll the clock. All of our rights are at stake. All the gains we’ve made in civil rights are at stake.”

Alachua County's Board of County Commissioners, a body made up of a majority of women, also shared reactions.

Protesters line the streets of downtown Gainesville on Saturday (June 11, 2022) during the March For Our Lives rally. “Don’t tell me this is the greatest country in the world when we have children who die most frequently now from gun violence,” said Blanche Stokley.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia called the decision "shameful and an affront to our right to make our own healthcare decisions."

"It is time to codify the right to abortion into law," she said.

Commission chairwoman Marihelen Wheeler said "I am sorry to see the dismantling of work that we did start when my generation was just coming of age. I was dismayed to see so many years of work overturned in a single vote."

What does overturning Roe mean? What we know about the Supreme Court's abortion ruling.

Abortions in Florida: Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, what's legal and what's not

Florida lawmakers

Congressional and state legislators were more split on the reversal.

U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, a Republican who represents Alachua and Marion counties, said Friday's Dobbs v. Jackson ruling was historic and protected all unborn children.

"Since the founding of our nation, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been key tenets in the United States, and today’s news has solidified our most basic right—the right to life," she said in a statement. "For the most vulnerable among us, this decision affirms the undeniable value of life and the protection and respect for all unborn children. This is a historic day. Life wins!"

Protestors rally "Save Roe" protest at the Judge Stephan P. Mickle, Sr. Criminal Court House on May 3, 2022. [Gabriella Whisler/Special to the Sun]

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, said the Constitution doesn't protect abortion and that states should have the right to decide.

"In the Constitution, it's pretty clear that abortion is not listed in there or talked about," he said. "There are two things that can happen, either the state makes laws affecting (abortion) or any senator or Congress could make an amendment to the Constitution of the United States. But the Supreme Court has become way too powerful. I think it’s up to the legislature, whether it's on the state or national level, to enact laws, not judges."

State Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, said the ruling goes beyond abortion and allows states to tramble other basic rights, such as privacy. She also said the ruling could open the gates for states to prosecute women seeking abortions or investigate their pregnancy outcomes.

“This wrongful ruling is about who has power over you, who has the authority to make decisions for you, and who can control how your future is going to be," she said. "Our rights are no longer safe. The battle is not over."

Community reaction

While speaking at a conference, Merritt McAlister, a professor of law at the University of Florida, said Friday the abortion case comes after a consequential Second Amendment case that prevents police from being sued for Miranda violations.

"This is an originalist court in lots of respects. It is going to focus on history and tradition," he said. "We do see a court that is bolder and willing to issue decisions that are big and consequential and that trend may continue…The court is not all that sensitive to public opinion … This is just the beginning."

Emily Calvin, chair of Gainesville's Chapter of the National Women's Liberation, said her heart sank when emails began to pour in about the ruling.

"They've been chipping away at this since Roe was decided and I feel like I'm like naive in thinking that it was going to be around forever, it's just disappointment, but also like, knowing that it was coming it just kind of makes me want to cry," Calvin said.

Kendra Vincent, also an organizer for the Gainesville NWL chapter, said since the decision she has been trying to console colleagues who are devastated.

"We knew it was coming and (I'm) probably pissed off before anything else," she said. "People who are poor are going to face the largest problems with this because people who have money will be able to go to states where abortions are still being performed."

Felton Woods, minister of the Gainesville Church of Christ, said he understands both sides of the matter but sides with "the authority of God's words" and was please with the ruling, which he likened to a "death sentence" for babies.

"I know all about the complexities that may happen that could cause someone to have a child," he said. "(People) may talk about 'Well, that woman has been raped.' Well, let's see what we can do about that. With the death sentence off the table, there are adoptions and policy programs. Maybe we need to try a little harder with contraceptives and making sure that we don't have these 'unwanted children,'" Woods said.

A protest to fight the recent ruling is currently planned for Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Alachua County courthouse in downtown Gainesville. It will be held by the National Women's Liberation, Planned Parenthood and the local abortion rights coalition.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Alachua County leaders react to the overturning of abortion rights