For decades, they thought it was a bluff.
Democrats like Nikki Fried and Danielle Hawk never believed the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that secured the right to an abortion. Though a looming threat in every election cycle, Fried said progressive politicians never imagined the reversal would happen.
Democrats subsequently took their feet off the gas, said Fried, the Florida commissioner of agriculture and a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate. They took votes for granted and didn’t campaign as intensely as they should’ve during election season, allowing a conservative majority on the court that put years of talk into action.
“We got here because we thought we never would get here,” she said.
Now, Democrats are rallying to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision. In Florida and across the country, candidates are running on platforms that spotlight reproductive health care and the right to an abortion.
Fried and Hawk brought that platform point to Gainesville as they engaged with voters on the issue.
Fried and Hawk, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, hosted a discussion on reproductive freedom for a crowd of about 20 people and 30 online viewers. The pair emphasized the importance of reproductive health care and mobilizing voters ahead of November’s general election.
Both Fried and Hawk’s platforms put abortion rights as a top issue. The candidates ran on points of codifying Roe into law and extending abortion access beyond the state’s current 15-week law, which was legalized with the passage of House Bill 5 in July.
That bill has since been challenged by state health care providers and will undergo review by the Florida Supreme Court, which Fried said will likely uphold the ban.
Instead of relying on the ruling, Fried said residents need to lobby their representatives for legislative action to protect the right to an abortion. She discussed plans to consider proposing a constitutional amendment that protects reproductive rights, though details are unclear, she said.
“I don’t have any faith in this Florida Supreme Court, which means that we’re going to have to go back to the people,” Fried said.
Fried lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary to former Rep. Charlie Crist. Despite not currently running a campaign, she said she still wants to broadcast her platform points.
Supporting candidates like Hawk is of the utmost importance in an election cycle with major issues like reproductive freedom on the line, Fried said.
“That’s what democracy is about,” she said. “One election doesn’t mean the things that I was fighting for end.”
Attendees like Holly Marino, a 25-year-old mortgage company employee and Gainesville resident, support similar legislative action to what Fried and Hawk promoted. She hopes to see Roe reinstated, she said, and for the legislature to expand abortion protections.
After a year of setbacks in abortion legislation, Marino said she holds onto candidates like Hawk to deliver on their promises if elected.
“I’m just hoping for the best at this point,” she said. “It’s been a hard road.”
Though abortion rights have traditionally fallen under Democratic campaigns, Hawk said she views the right to an abortion as a nonpartisan policy point. Liberal or conservative, urban or rural, woman or man, Hawk said everyone should advocate for reproductive health.
“It is not a partisan issue anymore,” she said. “We are up against extremists who are in our state legislatures, who are in our Congress, and they are coming for all of our personal liberties.”
Hawk’s opponent in the general election, Republican incumbent Rep. Kat Cammack, is co-chair of the U.S. House Pro-Life Caucus and has voted against reproductive health legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act, according to her Congressional voting record. She’s running on a platform of “defending life,” according to her campaign website, and she advocated for the reversal of Roe earlier this year.
Cammack leads Hawk in projected results, according to campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission. Cammack’s assets total almost $2 million, while Hawk has collected almost $32,000 in finances.
The right to an abortion hits home, Hawk said. As a woman of reproductive age, she said she’s advocating for reproductive health for both herself and her constituents.
“We’re talking about my rights being taken away from me,” she said. “It’s not just personal for me, but it’s also personal for a lot of the women who are here in our district.”
Legislative changes to secure reproductive rights are only possible if voters turn out, Fried and Hawk said. They warned of the apathy that allowed the overturn of Roe to transpire in the first place and encouraged voters to stay motivated for November’s election.
After years of electing Democrats only for little to change, Fried said she encountered many voters who were exasperated with the stagnation of the legislature. Despite the fatigue, she urged attendees to vote with more fervor instead of stepping back.
“That doesn’t mean you have to stop voting,” Fried said. “That means we need to vote more.”
Heather Bushman is a fourth-year journalism and political science student and the enterprise elections reporter. She previously wrote and edited for the Avenue desk and reported for WUFT News. You can usually find her writing, listening to music or writing about listening to music. Ask her about synesthesia or her album tier list sometime.