MIAMI — Several of Florida’s top-ranking Democrats made impassioned statements Tuesday afternoon in downtown Miami in support of abortion rights, reacting to Monday night’s bombshell leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that indicated the landmark Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide could be overturned.
More than 100 people gathered outside the Freedom Tower for a rally organized by the campaign of Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, one of several Democrats seeking to challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who recently signed legislation banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — later this year.
In the most fiery speech of an event that featured activists and politicians, South Florida U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said she “barely slept” the night before and choked back tears as she talked about the potential loss of rights for her two young adult daughters.
“It is time to make a stand. It is time, when our rights are being ripped away from us, to take that stand in the streets,” she said. “I will battle until my last breath to prevent this loss.”
Wasserman Schultz referred to Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court justice who penned the leaked draft opinion, as “Alito and his band of lying right-wingers.” And she referred to DeSantis as a “sick man in the governor’s mansion” who she believes would seek a total abortion ban in Florida if Roe v. Wade is reversed.
She added that the U.S. Senate should be pushed to codify abortion protections in federal law, as the House of Representatives did last year amid a wave of restrictions at the state level.
“We will not go back, and Republicans who support this decision, we are coming for you,” Wasserman Schultz said. “You just wait at the ballot box.”
The possibility of the Supreme Court’s overturning federal abortion protections sent a shock wave through the Democratic gubernatorial race in Florida, where the restrictions DeSantis signed into law last month take effect July 1.
All three Democratic candidates — Fried, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Sen. Annette Taddeo — have condemned the 15-week abortion ban and now the Supreme Court’s draft decision that could galvanize Democrats in the November midterm elections.
“This is an inflection point in our democracy and our country,” Fried said at Tuesday’s rally. “You need a governor who is going to protect your rights.”
At another news conference Tuesday at the Torch of Friendship — held 15 minutes before Fried’s event was scheduled just a half-mile down Biscayne Boulevard — Taddeo said it would be “really, really painful” to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
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“Allowing states to ban access to reproductive health care will only lead to unsafe and nonmedical alternatives,” Taddeo said.
Most of the Democratic candidates’ remarks Tuesday focused on the issue of abortion rights itself, rather than the upcoming primary in August. Crist, in a tweet, said he planned to attend a pro-choice rally in Pinellas County at 5 p.m. but also encouraged people in Miami to attend the events hosted by Fried and Taddeo.
“We need all hands on deck to stop this attack,” he wrote.
But Taddeo took jabs at her opponents, making references at her news conference and in a fundraising email to Fried’s past support of a Republican state senator, Manny Diaz Jr., who has been endorsed by anti-abortion groups. Crist is a “very nice guy,” Taddeo added, but she said “we need to make sure that we elect people who have a record that is very clear as to where they stand on this.”
Crist was elected governor of Florida as a Republican in 2006 before he left the party in 2010. In fundraising emails Tuesday, he touted a history of supporting abortion rights while in office.
“As your governor, I vetoed an anti-abortion bill,” Crist wrote. “And I’ll do it again — because I will always stand with women.”
Fried did not send out fundraising emails on the issue, saying on Twitter that she is “not asking for money right now” and instead seeking campaign volunteers.
“We have to make sure that we are speaking up,” Fried said at Tuesday’s rally, “we are organizing, and we are electing pro-choice men and women all across our country.”