Reaction roundup: Tampa Bay weighs in on the end of Roe v. Wade

Anger, grieving, rejoicing. Tampa Bay’s emotions were on full display after the constitutional right to abortion was struck down.
Abortion-rights marchers hold signs during a rally Friday in St. Petersburg.
Abortion-rights marchers hold signs during a rally Friday in St. Petersburg. [ JEFF WOO | Times ]
Published June 24, 2022|Updated June 25, 2022

The reactions in Tampa Bay to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade run the gamut.

Conservative politicians are celebrating. Many women and others hoping to see continued access to abortion are furious, or grieving, or both.

Several progressive organizations held a 5 p.m. abortion-rights demonstration at North Straub Park. Others planned to gather at 6:30 p.m. at St. Petersburg City Hall.

A student group from the University of South Florida has planned a demonstration for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the corner of N 56th Street and E Fowler Avenue in Tampa.

Here’s how a historic day unfolded.

• • •

Read the Times’ latest coverage:

‘Pro-life’ Florida advocates celebrate end of Roe v. Wade

Why Florida isn’t losing the right to an abortion … yet

This Tampa Bay group helps women get abortions. With Roe overturned, their job just got harder.

Florida reacts to Roe v. Wade overturn by Supreme Court

5 resources that could help if you’re seeking abortion in Florida

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St. Petersburg mayor ‘disappointed’ with Supreme Court decision

7:17 p.m. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch spoke out against the justices’ vote to overturn Roe on Twitter Friday night. “I’m extremely disappointed w/ the SCOTUS decision to overturn #RoevWade and roll the clock back 50yrs on women’s bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. It’s more important than ever to show up at the polls to elect leaders who will ensure reproductive rights are protected in FL,” he tweeted.

Earlier in the evening, Welch was one of the speakers at “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in St. Petersburg.

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6:33 p.m. Florida LGBTQ+ leaders worry the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could affect same-sex marriage.

Read the full story here.

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5:51 p.m. Times reporter Sharon Kennedy Wynne is at a Friday night pre-Pride parade concert — part of St. Petersburg’s Pride celebrations — where performers and concertgoers are reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision. The concert will include performances by Russian punk band Pussy Riot, singer Todrick Hall of “American Idol” and “Masked Singer,” and some of the area’s top LGBTQ+ artists.

• • •

Protesters march at ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ rally in St. Petersburg

5:51 p.m. Shortly before 6 p.m., the thick crowd began to walk around the perimeter of Straub Park, holding their signs overhead. “My body, my choice,” they chanted in unison.

5:17 p.m. An energetic crowd gathered in North Straub Park for the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally, an abortion-rights event organized by a group of local organizations.

”We’re here to ignite the voters, to ignite the young people,” said Toni Van Pelt, a member of the West Pinellas National Organization for Women. “There’s no such thing as a safe illegal abortion.”

Protesters held cardboard signs proclaiming their right to legal, accessible abortions. One woman handed out Rosie the Riveter stickers.

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch addressed the crowd around 5 p.m. “The Supreme Court decision was wrong,” he said plainly. “We are in a fight for the future of our nation.”

State Rep. Michelle Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, spoke after Welch.

“I don’t know about y’all, but I am pissed off,” she said. “If they don’t want to hear us in the courthouse or the Statehouse, we’ll take it to the streets.”

Nathan Bruemmer, president emeritus of St. Pete Pride, took the mic next. As a proud transgender man, Bruemmer told the crowd, he struggled to sort through all of the emotions the court’s decision triggered in him. Abortion rights impact everyone, he said. The crowd grew louder with cheers and shouts of support as he spoke. When they come for one of us, he said, they come for all of us.

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State Attorney Andrew Warren won’t prosecute those seeking abortions

5:04 p.m. Elected prosecutors from across the country — including Andrew Warren, the state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa — released a joint statement stating they were declining to criminalize reproductive health decisions and would not prosecute those who seek, provide or support abortions.

No other Florida officials signed off the statement.

“As elected prosecutors, we have a responsibility to ensure that these limited resources are focused on efforts to prevent and address serious crimes, rather than enforcing abortion bans that divide our community, create untenable choices for patients and healthcare providers, and erode trust in the justice system,” the statement said. “Enforcing abortion bans would mean taking time, effort, and resources away from the prosecution of the most serious crimes — conduct that truly impacts public safety.”

• • •

‘I cannot tell you how many calls we’ve had today, women crying’

4:49 p.m. Since news of the overturn of Roe broke this morning, the phone has been ringing constantly at the Tampa Women’s Health Center, a women’s health clinic that provides gynecological services including abortion.

“I cannot tell you how many calls we’ve had today, women crying,” said director Liberty Feucht.

The calls included people with appointments scheduled in the upcoming week seeking reassurance that they can still get the procedure.

Others were from women who were not pregnant but worried that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will end their right to reproductive health care.

One woman who had just moved to Florida and has no family in the state was inconsolable, Feucht said.

“We’re getting calls from women who aren’t pregnant but are scared,” she said. “You can take every precaution and all of those things can fail.”

Patients come from as far as Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia to the Tampa clinic located close to the University of South Florida. Staffers there perform more than 100 abortions per month and it’s one of three clinics in the state that performs abortions up to the 23rd week of pregnancy.

But that will change next week because of a new state law banning abortions after 15 weeks. Feucht’s staffers have been working to make sure women on the cusp of 15 weeks have appointments before July 1 when the law goes into effect.

Feucht expects that Florida’s Republican leaders will enact further restrictions or an outright ban on abortions in the next legislative session.

“Everything right now seems doom and gloom but there are people on the ground fighting; that’s the most important thing to remember,” she said.

The clinic was already fielding more calls and seeing an increase in appointments since May 2 when a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion was published in Politico that suggested the court was poised to overrule 50 years of a Constitutional right to abortion.

“A big part of our job is reassuring people that this still a right they have,” said Feucht. “We will provide it for as long as possible.”

• • •

St. Petersburg council member sounds off on Twitter

St. Petersburg City Council member Richie Floyd, center, answers a question during a March 28 community meeting in Clearwater.
St. Petersburg City Council member Richie Floyd, center, answers a question during a March 28 community meeting in Clearwater. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

4:37 p.m. Richie Floyd, a St. Petersburg city council member, tweeted Friday that “The supreme court is full of s--t.”

Tampa Bay Times reporter Colleen Wright quoted Floyd’s original tweet in her own tweet, which read:

“In one of the most Democratic cities in Florida, with a Dem mayor and a council that is 7/8 Dems, council member & democratic socialist Richie Floyd is the only elected who has said something publicly about the overturn of Roe.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is expected to speak at the Bans Off Our Bodies rally in St. Petersburg at 5 p.m.

• • •

‘We will not sit idly by while our freedoms are stripped away’

3:54 p.m. Stephanie Fraim, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, denounced the court’s decision in an email to the Times.

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has now officially given politicians across the country the power to control what people can do with their own bodies. This means millions of Americans will no longer be trusted to determine the course of their own lives. This dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the southeast and beyond, forcing people who can afford it to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for abortion care in Florida and other states where at least some access is still protected.

“This ruling eliminates the federal constitutional right to privacy around abortion, but the Florida state constitution still protects that right. The Florida 15-week abortion ban, which will go into effect July 1st, is clearly unconstitutional, which is why Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and other plaintiffs are suing to stop it. We will not sit idly by while our freedoms are stripped away like this — we will not stop fighting for our rights.”

• • •

3:35 p.m. HEART, an organization that promotes reproductive rights for Muslims, called the Supreme Court’s decision a “devastating blow to the most impacted communities in our country, namely Black, indigenous, and people of color —including Muslims who are able to get pregnant.”

• • •

3:30 p.m. The Rev. Chuck Dornquast, the Diocese of St. Petersburg’s director of vocations, issued said the Supreme Court decision is remarkable because every human being has dignity.

”We must cultivate a culture of life. And we celebrate this decision because people have an opportunity to live,” he said.

• • •

‘The court has failed us’

Natashia Milburn, Planned Parenthood speaker, talks to reporters about abortion rights during a news conference Friday outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa.
Natashia Milburn, Planned Parenthood speaker, talks to reporters about abortion rights during a news conference Friday outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

2:40 p.m. Abortion rights advocates gathered Friday morning in front of the George Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa to decry the Dobbs opinion.

”This court has failed us,” said Elizabeth Baker, a regional organizer for the Florida Planned Parenthood in Tampa Bay. “It has taken away the power to control, our bodies, our lives and our futures.”

She urged people to vote in this year’s elections “for candidates who are committed to protecting and furthering abortion access and reproductive health care initiatives.”

”This decision will not stop us,” Baker said. “We are not backing down. We will fight like hell to make sure that those who would threaten abortion access are voted out of office this year.”

Natashia Milburn, an Air Force veteran and Planned Parenthood speaker, recounted her deeply personal story of an unplanned teenage pregnancy. Her voice quavering, she spoke of a religious family that refused to give consent and of finding her own way to a clinic far from home.

”A lost and scared teenager shouldn’t have to cross state lines in the middle of the night, alone, to receive health care that was a human right given to me and us at the moment of birth,” she said.

She said the experience shaped her into the person she became. She said the high court’s opinion curb’s personal freedoms.

”We are no longer the United States of America,” she said. “This decision divides the states of America and it tears at the very fabric of the flag that supposedly stands for being united and free.” Toni Van Pelt, 74, a member of the West Pinellas National Organization for Women, offered a glimpse at what abortion access was like in the 1960s, when it was illegal.

She was 19. She contacted a clandestine service, who told her where to go, and to bring $400. She recounted a harrowing and traumatizing experience.

A few weeks afterward, a woman she did not know asked for the number she’d called. She gave it to her. Then came police, who arrested her for aiding and abetting an illegal abortion. She remained jailed until the case came before a judge who dismissed the case.

”Why did the judge throw out the case?” Van Pelt said. “Because the country was being exposed to and made aware of the many women who were being butchered, maimed for life or dying due to illegal abortions.”

Hers was a decision she never regretted.

”I was lucky. I survived and I was free,” she said. “Not the church, not the state, only women will decide their fate.”

• • •

Decision will hurt Hispanic women, says advocacy group

2:25 p.m. Elizabeth Gutierrez, founder of the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas, a group to develop and manage opportunities for Hispanic women in Wimauma, one of the most impoverished areas in the region, said the Supreme Court’s decision is a tragedy.

”We have another Black Friday. The Supreme Court’s decision represents an outrage for people’s rights.”

Guetierrez also said that other civil rights could be put in danger under the umbrella of the Supreme Court and its conservatives judges.

”What would happen if you lose the right to vote or to have representation? It is a step backwards on rights.”

Kirk Ray Smith, president and chief executive officer with Hope Villages of America, a nonprofit in Pinellas, said the Supreme Court’s ruling against abortions will have an adverse effect on women.

”It’s been our experience at Hope Villages of America that the language barrier that exists amongst Hispanics has exacerbated a number of already challenging issues facing the women that we serve,” Smith said. “However, what language is clear is that women no longer have control over decisions related to their own health.”

• • •

Florida’s bishops: ‘The long-awaited righting of a grievous wrong’

2:20 p.m. The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Bishop Gregory Parkes of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, issued a statement celebrating Roe being overturned.

“We are deeply heartened to see that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in its landmark opinion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The most influential abortion case in decades, Dobbs is a decision by our nation’s highest court to allow states to protect women and their children from abortion through all stages of pregnancy.

“The legacy of Roe and Casey has been the imposition of an abortion regime that made our nation one of the most liberal of Western democratic countries on abortion. As a result, over 62 million children nationwide and 3,368,4751 children in Florida were denied the opportunity to live outside the womb since 1973. Mothers, fathers, and families have suffered under the shadow of Roe. Now, decision-making on abortion policy is once again in the hands of the American people and their elected officials. This is a momentous step towards establishing a more robust culture of life.

“The Dobbs case marks a new era for the work of the Church and all those who strive to protect children in the womb. We remain committed to ministries of service that accompany expectant mothers facing difficult or unintended pregnancies. We strive to continue to build a society that empowers women so that mothers are truly supported throughout pregnancy and beyond. A truly pro-life culture values women for their unique contributions and special gifts in all spheres of life, while supporting them in their roles as mothers. We wholeheartedly promote the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ initiative Walking with Moms in Need as well as the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to provide life-affirming care for women.

“We also remain passionate in the collective effort to change hearts and minds in Florida so that abortion is unthinkable, and to advocate for the legal protection of human life in the womb accompanied by profound care for mothers and their children. Roe’s reversal is the long-awaited righting of a grievous wrong, and we look ahead with grateful hope as we seek to bring the light of Christ and the Gospel of Life to our state of Florida.”

The statement was signed by: Most Rev. Thomas G. Wenski, Archdiocese of Miami; Most Rev. Gerald M. Barbarito, Diocese of Palm Beach; Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, Diocese of Venice; Most Rev. John G. Noonan, Diocese of Orlando; Most Rev. Felipe J. Estévez, Diocese of St. Augustine; Most Rev. Gregory L. Parkes, Diocese of St. Petersburg; Most Rev. William A. Wack, Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee; Most Rev. Enrique E. Delgado, Archdiocese of Miami.

• • •

2:14 p.m. Tiffany Freisberg, the president of St. Pete Pride, said the Court’s decision calls into question rights that have been taken for granted.

”The first pride was a riot,” Freisberg said. “And we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been using it more as a celebration recently. I think there’s going to be a renewed sense of importance, of significance, to why were gathering.”

Could the Roe decision affect same-sex marriage?

Read the full story here.

• • •

2:13 p.m. The Walt Disney Co., which employs some 80,000 people at its theme parks and other operations in Florida, said it will offer employees a “travel benefit” to cover costs related to seeking an abortion.

Read the full story here.

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2:12 p.m. Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted that the Supreme Court has “answered the prayers of millions upon millions of Americans.”

Read the full story here.

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2:08 p.m. Earlier this year, Times staff spoke with residents at Gulfport Senior Center.

Everyone there had an abortion story, providing a window into life before Roe.

”It’s funny, I thought Roe. v. Wade passed before the 1970s,” said Pat Van Leuran, 78.

”That’s just because we all knew people who were getting them before then,” 70-year-old Corey Kallen said with a chuckle. “It just wasn’t legal.”

Read the full story here.

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U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist: ‘Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh lied’

1:57 p.m. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, who’s running for governor of Florida this cycle, has all but called for two Supreme Court justices to be impeached over the decision on Roe v. Wade.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh lied to Congress when they testified, under oath, that in their view Roe v. Wade was settled precedent,” Crist said in a statement. Perjury is a crime. If perjury is found to have occurred, the correct remedy is impeachment.”

• • •

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor: “Decision is downright dangerous’

1:51 p.m. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, offered this statement: “Ripping away our rights and freedoms is un-American — and this decision is downright dangerous. For over fifty years, women across America have had the right to make personal health care decisions with their doctors and their families. Today, the Supreme Court and the extremists who built this court majority are compromising the health, safety and economic well being of women and families. Women, families and their doctors — not politicians — should determine the timing of childbirth, make their own personal reproductive health decisions and choose their pathways in life.

Read the full story here.

• • •

1:48 p.m.: Scott Mahurin, the director and founder of Florida Preborn Rescue in St. Petersburg, said he knows people who’ve 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.”

Read the full story here.

• • •

1:45 p.m. Florida has historically been a safe haven for people seeking abortions in the South.

But with anti-abortion advocates emboldened by the Supreme Court, and state lawmakers who have expressed interest in further limiting the ability to terminate a pregnancy, reproductive rights are under attack.

Those on the frontlines of abortion access must now split focus between serving the present needs of those choosing to terminate their pregnancy, and planning for a future in which a more sophisticated network of resources is needed to make abortion accessible.

“Abortion is still legal in this country, and we’re more dedicated than ever to getting people the care they want and deserve,” said McKenna Kelley, a volunteer with the fund. “Our priority is our clients. That hasn’t changed.”

Read the full story here.

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Times staff writers Caroline Petrow-Cohen, Lauren Peace, Juan Carlos Chavez, Romy Ellenbogen, Christopher O’Donnell, Dan Sullivan, Emily L. Mahoney, Chris Hippensteel, Lawrence Mower and Hannah Critchfield contributed to this report.

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Learn how an abortion ban could change the lives of women in Florida.

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