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In Florida, protesters march for women's rights in post-Roe abortion battleground

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today marks 50 years since the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion across the country. The current slate of justices overruled the decision last June. In response, hundreds of events were organized across the country over the weekend protesting new restrictions on abortion that have been imposed in many parts of the country. Here's Vice President Kamala Harris speaking earlier today in Tallahassee, Fla.

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KAMALA HARRIS: The right of every woman in every state in this country to make decisions about her own body is on the line. And I've said it before, and I will say it again - how dare they?

MARTIN: Joe Mario Pedersen of member station WMFE reported on an event in Orlando.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Abortion bans have got to go.

JOE MARIO PEDERSEN, BYLINE: A group of about 200 protesters marched through the heart of Orlando's downtown during the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which established a U.S. citizen's constitutional right to an abortion. The near half-century ruling was overturned last June. Since then, Florida, under Governor Ron DeSantis, has become a battleground state for abortion and women's rights activists. Leading the charge through Orlando was Democrat Anna Eskamani, who represents Orlando in the Florida State House.

ANNA ESKAMANI: Our goal today really is to rally the troops, to rally everyday Floridians for reproductive rights, for our freedoms and to send a message to politicians, who are now in the supermajority as Republicans, that Floridians do not want abortion bans.

PEDERSEN: Abortion is still legal in Florida. However, Governor DeSantis signed a law last year creating a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of gestation. A state judge ruled the ban unconstitutional, but DeSantis filed an appeal to temporarily block the judge's ruling, meaning the 15-week ban is in effect in Florida. Governor DeSantis, who recently won reelection, has a Republican supermajority legislature, and it is believed they will work to further restrict abortion this year.

ESKAMANI: I do suspect it could be a six-week abortion ban. That's what states around us have done. And it's a way to say that you're not completely banning abortion, even though a majority of folks do not know they're pregnant by six weeks.

PEDERSEN: Given Florida's political landscape, abortion-rights activists aren't feeling confident about women's rights in the near future. Activist Debbie Deland says rallying troops has been difficult in the face of failure.

DEBBIE DELAND: Passion and outrage is still there, but people are disheartened and tempted to give up because we know we're going to lose. We're going to lose in the short term. We're not going to lose in the long term, and we're not going to give up. We're going to work it in the long term.

PEDERSEN: Nicole Benton, 33 years old of Orlando, isn't hopeful for the short term as state lawmakers prepare to convene for the 2023 legislature in March. However, that didn't stop her from marching downtown, along with her 8-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. She believes anti-abortion laws unfairly target communities of color.

NICOLE BENTON: A lot of marginalized groups, such as Black women like myself, oftentimes don't have access to health care - not just reproductive health care, but health care in general. And so because there's not equitable - because there's not always equitable access to health care, I think that abortion bans will further disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

PEDERSEN: Benton knows that pro-choice advocates face an uphill climb in Florida. Still, that's why she's here marching with her children.

BENTON: I think that it's important not to just bow down and accept the restrictions and the bans that are being put into place. I think it's important to keep fighting for our freedoms, no matter how grim it may look, because one day, things may turn around. Unfortunately, it doesn't look very bright right now, but my hope is that I can keep fighting for my children so that they can one day have the freedoms that we don't have right now.

PEDERSEN: Not everyone at the rally felt the same. There was a small group of counter-protesters carrying signs and a megaphone of their own.

Reporting in Orlando for NPR, I'm Joe Mario Pedersen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Mario Pedersen - WMFE