In Florida, California and beyond: Both sides mobilize over abortion
By Kate Zemike
The expanding battle over abortion set off by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is moving to state courts and legislatures, with a Florida judge scheduled Monday to hear a challenge under state law to a ban taking effect this week and California lawmakers preparing to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to protect reproductive rights.
In Florida, health care providers have asked a judge to temporarily block the state’s new ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law signed this spring by Gov. Ron DeSantis and set to take effect Friday. The plaintiffs argue that the law violates the state constitution’s protection for individual privacy rights which, in previous rulings by the state Supreme Court, has been interpreted to include the right to abortion.
Until now, Florida law has included fewer restrictions on abortion than other Southern states, making it a refuge for women across the region. The new law is similar to the Mississippi statute at the heart of the Supreme Court case that overturned Roe v. Wade last week; it includes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
In California, lawmakers are expected as soon as Monday to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would explicitly protect reproductive rights. If approved, it would go before state voters in November for approval.
The efforts in both states come as the Supreme Court has unleashed a frenzy of activity on both sides of the abortion fight, with anti-abortion forces vowing to push for near-total bans in every state in the nation, and abortion rights groups insisting they would harness rage over the decision to take to the streets, fight back in the courts and push the Biden administration to do more to protect abortion rights.
The court said its ruling Friday was needed because of what it called a half-century of bitter national controversy sparked by Roe, but its decision set off more immediate and widespread rancor and mobilizing than the original ruling — and guaranteed pitched battles and extraordinary division ahead.
The National Right to Life Committee is promoting model legislation for state bans and has renewed its push for a constitutional amendment banning abortion nationwide. It and other anti-abortion groups also have pledged to punish prosecutors who have said they would not enforce abortion bans, and to seek legislation prohibiting people from crossing state lines to get abortions or from obtaining abortion pills.
Abortion-rights groups promised court fights over the trigger bans that took effect Friday upon the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In Ohio, Freda J. Levenson, legal director for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, said Sunday that her organization and Planned Parenthood of Ohio would file suit early this week to block the implementation of abortion bans in the state, arguing that abortion is a protected right under the Ohio Constitution.
The Women’s March, which rallied hundreds of thousands to demonstrations after Donald Trump became president in 2017, promised street protests in a “Summer of Rage” and said it would back primary challenges to Democrats it considered complicit in the appointment of the conservative Supreme Court majority.
In Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has filed suit to stop a nearly century-old ban on abortion from taking effect, activists were collecting signatures on a ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution.
“We’re going at it, we’re pulling out all the stops,” Whitmer, a Democrat, said on “Face the Nation With Margaret Brennan.” “This is a fight-like-hell moment.”
Abortion-rights supporters could take heart over what appeared to be broad public disapproval of Friday’s ruling. A CBS News/YouGov poll conducted immediately after the court handed down its decision shows that Americans considered it a “step backward” for the nation by more than a 20 percentage-point margin.
Nearly 60% of Americans and two-thirds of women disapproved of the ruling, the poll said. Fifty-eight percent said they would approve of a federal law making abortion legal.
And 56% of women said the ruling would make women’s lives worse, according to the poll, far greater than the 16% who said it would improve women’s lives
But, opponents of abortion, celebrating their biggest victory in the nearly 50 years since Roe, felt as if they had the wind at their back.
Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, said its primary focus would now be on preventing pregnant women from getting abortion pills as a workaround to bans. It had also discussed proposed legislation, modeled along the lines of a Texas law that since September has banned abortion after six weeks, that would allow ordinary citizens to sue anyone who provided abortion services across state lines.
“Ultimately our mission in the pro-life movement is to make the act of abortion unthinkable and unavailable in our nation,” Hawkins said.
The waves of joy and anger set off immediately after the decision Friday continued all weekend, on the airwaves and in pulpits and at protests in the sweltering summer heat.
A thousand protesters waving signs and chanting objected to the court’s decision outside the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, where Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation last month, in anticipation that the court would overturn Roe.
Hundreds turned out to support abortion rights at rallies in Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery in deeply conservative Alabama. Leaders of the rally outside the Madison County Courthouse in Huntsville urged the crowd not to pay attention to or interact with a group of chanting anti-abortion protesters who attempted to interrupt the gathering.
Denunciations of the court ruling rang out at events wrapping up Gay Pride month across the country. A contingent of Planned Parenthood supporters led off the boisterous Pride Parade in New York City, chanting, “Rise up for abortion rights!” At the Pride event in San Francisco a city supervisor, Rafael Mandelman, told the crowd that while they could party for the day, “tomorrow we have work to do!” Even those in California, he said, could campaign for congressional candidates in other states.
“If we’re going to change what happened on Friday, we all need to do work,” he said. “We can knock on doors and we can elect Democrats and we can protect Democrats.”
For many conservatives, Sunday was a day of celebration
At the Austin Baptist Church in Texas, the Rev. Jonathan Spencer devoted his two morning sermons to celebrating the court’s decision.
“I rejoice with the Lord in his mercy and grace in helping remove what I believe is one of the greatest tragedies of our generation,” he told his congregants, asserting that more than 63 million children have been killed because of abortion since Roe.
“This does not end the battle,” he said. “Abortion still stands and people will still undergo these procedures.”
His message was well-received among the congregation. “I thought he was perfectly on point,” said Dawn Church, 49. Of the court decision, she said, “I’m ecstatic.”
But in other congregations there were other messages.
At Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Bishop Joseph Walker III blessed several babies in a baby dedication ceremony, before calling on women in the large and mostly Black congregation to stand and be applauded.
He recognized the women for the role they have long played “on the front lines of so many battles and fights” nationally and globally and committed to more prayers for them.
“Look at these beautiful babies, life is a blessing,” he said. “At the end of the day, no one has a right to tell you what to do with you. That’s between you and God.”
Tameka Gibson, 45, welcomed his support. “I believe in pro-choice,” she said. “I believe that is a decision between people and God.” She did not agree with the direction Tennessee was taking; its trigger ban on abortion took effect Friday.
“Everything is going backwards,” she said.
Protests were mainly peaceful, though some sporadic violence was reported. A grocery store worker in New York was arrested Sunday after hitting Rudy Giuliani on the back while the former mayor campaigned on behalf of his son, a Republican candidate for governor. Giuliani said he was walking through a ShopRite grocery store when the employee slapped his back and said, “You’re going to kill women.”
But as the nation absorbed the gravity of the moment — the rare occasion when the court has taken away a constitutional right — there were scenes of doubt, nuance and sometimes a desire to find middle ground, or at least understand those with different and deeply held views.
At the service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville on Sunday morning with her husband and 5-month-old daughter, Katie Fullan said she supported the court’s decision. “But I had mixed feelings too,” she said. “I have a lot of friends, co-workers, neighbors who feel very distressed by it, and I feel like I really sympathize with them and understand where they are coming from.”
And while she supported the state’s decision to ban abortion, she thought it also needed to pass laws for paid maternity leave, subsidized child care and financial support for food and housing for those who need it.
“Many of the reasons women feel like they need abortion is because of the lack of support for raising children,” Fullan said. “The hardships that come with pregnancy and recovery, that’s going to be hard even with paid health care and paid child care.”
At the Brethren Church on a rural highway in Jefferson Township, Ohio, the congregation is split roughly half between Black and white members, with a handful of Latino congregants. Part of the service is delivered in Spanish. And while the church’s stances have historically been progressive, the membership prides itself on nurturing a diversity of views.
“I am totally for the Supreme Court verdict, I don’t believe in harming innocent children,” Sharon Sampson said.
Terri Griffith said: “I am very disillusioned. This Supreme Court is dangerous.”
Yet those on opposite sides had worshipped together and shared in the potluck after the service. Jan Putrell, 68, was also there. While she described herself as a “radical progressive” on many social issues, she said abortion did not fit the easy categories that some do.
“We need a time of discernment,” she said, “to reflect on the verdict.”