Michele Herzog was loading picket signs into her SUV to take to the sidewalk outside an Orlando Planned Parenthood. They depicted pictures of an unborn fetus before and after an abortion. A typical Friday.
Then she looked at her phone and saw the text from a reporter. Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that enshrined a federal constitutional right to abortion, had been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Individual states can now regulate abortion. The decades of work from anti-abortion advocates like herself had paid off.
Herzog, the director of Pro-Life Action Ministries of Central Florida, organizes people to stand outside abortion clinics and offer what she calls “sidewalk counselors and prayer support.” Her organization tells people seeking an abortion that there are other options. Or tries to, anyway.
Friday’s Supreme Court decision produced a sublime, surreal moment for the anti-abortion movement in Florida. The state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks will take effect July 1, but the procedure will still be legal before then.
“Our work is going to continue because nothing will really change here in Florida,” Herzog said.
Whether the 15-week ban will be allowed to stand will depend on how judges interpret the Florida Constitution. Ditto for even stricter potential abortion regulations, such as a 6-week ban or making the procedure illegal.
That’s why for some in Florida, the death of Roe was met with a relatively muted celebration. Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls called the state courts “an additional hurdle” in a tweet.
Still, for those who have fought for half a century against a person’s right to get an abortion, everything changed Friday. In dozens of states, all at once, anti-abortion advocates found themselves in an unfamiliar position of unequivocal victory.
Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, was attending the National Right to Life convention in Atlanta on Friday. Out of nowhere, at around 10:15 a.m., the crowd at the airport Marriott began to cheer.
“I haven’t even read it yet,” she said in an interview of the 5-4 decision striking down Roe v. Wade. “We just heard screaming and yelling. I am just so excited. I cannot believe this.”
Scott Mahurin, the director and founder of Florida Preborn Rescue in St. Petersburg, said he knows people who have been working to see abortion outlawed longer than he’s been alive.
He felt gratitude and excitement when he heard the news. But the prevailing emotion for him, at least at first, seemed to be shock.
“I am stunned that we got to this point. I am stunned,” Mahurin said. “The pro-life community has been disappointed so much by politicians and courts.”
Some anti-abortion advocates acknowledged that millions of Floridians will react to the loss of a constitutional right to an abortion with horror. Mahurin said he is praying for peace.
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State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who sponsored the bill banning most abortions after 15 weeks, said women have numerous options to avoid unplanned pregnancies. To her, the decision is an opportunity to show how serious Florida is about protecting life at all stages.
But those same advocates acknowledged the fight to ban abortion in Florida will face staunch opposition.
That’s why organizations hoping to end abortion must continue educating people, Bell said.
Mahurin and Herzog plan to continue standing with their organizations outside abortion clinics.
And that’s why they say the legislative push in Florida begins now.
“We have to really hold pro-life legislators accountable,” Mahurin said. “Now that states have that freedom, we’ll see who is really pro-life, and who has said it to get votes.”
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