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Friday, July 01, 2022

Gainesville community rallies for reproductive rights

Activists warn overturning Roe v. Wade will disproportionately affect East Gainesville

<p>More than 600 Gainesville citizens join nationwide ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ rallies on Saturday, May 14th, at the 6th St. and 2nd Ave. intersection.</p>

More than 600 Gainesville citizens join nationwide ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ rallies on Saturday, May 14th, at the 6th St. and 2nd Ave. intersection.

Stephanie Birch was a University of Illinois senior with a 2-year-old child when she found out she was pregnant again. She took out an emergency student loan from the university to pay for an abortion. Her financial situation and abusive relationship prevented her from financing the procedure herself; she said the university didn’t require information on what the money was used for. 

Her enrollment in college allowed her to access an abortion, she said, as did transportation and proximity to a clinic. 

Birch was just one of the many people who shared their stories and experiences with abortions at the Bans Off Our Bodies march Saturday morning. A part of Planned Parenthood’s string of organized protests across the nation, this was the second Gainesville protest advocating for abortion rights this month after Politico published a leaked draft ruling that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Parents, partners and pets began the one-mile march at Bo Diddley Plaza at about 10:20 a.m. and headed towards Cora P. Roberson Park.

About 750 people displayed solidarity with those who have a uterus through signs. Some read “Abort the court” and “Don’t tread on my uterus.”

Birch’s pill-shaped sign, which read “Say yes! to safe abortions … I did” aimed to destigmatize conversations about terminating pregnancies. Without access to the emergency loan, Birch said she might have considered dangerous abortion methods or carried the child to term, which might have prevented her from graduating with three masters degrees in history, library science and African studies.

Cheers were not limited to protesters. People driving cars also showed support by honking their horns, which sparked even louder cheers from demonstrators. 

Although organizers distributed flyers discouraging demonstrators from interacting with the opposition, counter-protesters were not present. 

Organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Dream Defenders, Florida Forward, the Civic Media Center, Socialist Alternative and National Women’s Liberation, set up tables to greet the protesters at the march’s end at Cora P. Roberson Park. 

Among them was Chenae Jackson, a 42-year-old local activist and co-founder of Florida Forward, who spoke at the event. She said overturning Roe v. Wade will disproportionately affect East Gainesville, primarily because of financial restrictions.

“We have less income,” Jackson said. “We have less ability to afford birth control.” 

Access to food also needs to be discussed tangentially with reproductive health, Jackson said. Healthy pregnancies and maternal stability hinge on adequate nutrition, she said.  

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Gainesville has identified 11 areas as food deserts, according to a report from the city. Gainesville city commissioners unanimously passed a plan to consider creating an East Gainesville community grocery store in February. 

Jackson stressed how important birth control is for Black women, who experience higher rates of intrauterine bleeding. Jackson’s daughter was hospitalized for six days in October. The remedy was birth control, which helped regulate her hormones and excessive bleeding. 

Lack of available transportation inhibits access to abortions, Jackson said. Gainesville only has two independent abortion clinics, both of which are located in West Gainesville. 

Abortion funds can help improve abortions’ accessibility, Kai Christmas, the 25-year-old Planned Parenthood regional protest organizer, said. They can pay for the cost of transportation or arrange childcare services for those who have children. 

Kelsey Malles, a 21-year-old women’s studies graduate student, emphasized the importance of transgender visibility when discussing reproductive health. Malles pointed out the lack of representation in the signs carried by protesters, which predominantly spotlighted women’s rights. 

Overturning Roe v. Wade will affect everyone with a uterus, Malles said.

The leaked draft puts pressure on men to educate their male friends and family about reproductive rights, Anton Kernohan, a political director for Florida Forward Coalition, said. 

“You need to educate your sons, your male friends, etc., on not only abortion access but male birth control,” Kernohan said. “If you don't want to use male birth control, then you need to get a vasectomy. And that's point blank, period, hard stop.”

Contact Fernando at ffigueroa@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.

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