Forty years ago today, the United States Supreme Court declared that a woman has the right to choose whether or not to forcibly terminate a pregnancy. The Court's landmark decision is not only still hotly debated, but is also constantly challenged around the country. Roe v. Wade is also an umbrella that covers a much larger area -- that of women's reproductive rights in general, including such issues as accessibility to contraceptives, insurance coverage for birth control, and abortion, and government-funded abortions.
How has Florida changed in the 40 years since the decision -- and how does the state stack up against the rest of the country when it comes to women's access to abortion and other reproductive services? We spoke with a cross-section of Floridians: students, journalists, health professionals, legal scholars, mental health counselors, liberals, and conservatives of every race, ethnicity, age, and gender.
A State Divided
It's clear that Florida is a state largely divided on women's reproductive rights. During the November election, Amendment 6 was defeated by a small margin. The proposed amendment would have prohibited the state from using government funding to provide abortions and would also have resulted in stronger parental consent laws for underage girls seeking abortions.
The polls revealed a state divided almost equally down the middle, with a large minority of 44 percent in favor.
Florida vs. the Nation
How does Florida compare with other states in the nation? "Mother Jones reported that Mississippi's last abortion clinic is in danger of closing, and women throughout the state already have to travel far to reach that one," says Maria Murriel, a reporter with the Sun-Sentinel, who is also pro-choice. (Murriel was formerly a contributor to Cultist.) She elaborates, "In Miami, I know of at least three abortion clinics, and their existence indicates no groups have succeeded in shutting them down and that some groups have worked to keep the places open for women's sake."
Associate professor of constitutional law at the University of Miami, Caroline Mala Corbin, explains how Florida differs from the rest of the country. "Florida is unusual in that its Constitution has an explicit right to privacy. Article I, section 23, Right to Privacy: 'Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from government intrusion into the person's private life except as provided herein.' This right to privacy has been interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court to protect women's reproductive rights, including to the right to abortion. Consequently, even if Roe v. Wade were overruled, the right to abortion would still be protected under the Florida Constitution." Had Amendment 6 passed, that would not be the case.
What Happens Next
As an expert on constitutional law, Corbin foresees slow but definite changes in Florida's future. "Nonetheless, reproductive rights are more likely to be gradually chipped away rather than eliminated in one fell swoop. Florida has many laws that make it more difficult and more expensive for women to obtain an abortion." She clarifies, "For example, Florida is one of a growing number of states that now requires women to have and pay for an ultrasound before an abortion, whether or not it is medically necessary."
In the meantime, the issue continues to be hotly contested. George Gonzalez, an author and therapist who teaches psychology at Miami Dade College, sees it as a matter of equality. "As a therapist who has counseled male perpetrators of domestic violence for the past six years, it is clear to me that many people in South Florida still abide by the old world belief system of gender inequality. Roe v. Wade has served as a catalyst towards a much needed paradigm shift where women are rightly viewed as as capable of making difficult decisions, especially when it is regarding their own bodies."
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An employee at one of the Miami locations of Planned Parenthood said she couldn't share her name because employees are not allowed to comment to the media, but she could share her experience. "The right to choose is a wonderful thing. It is not always an easy decision. I see women who come in and can't go through with it and I see women come who just see it as a regular medical procedure. But, honestly, women should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, period. If you saw what I see, you'd know it's the best thing. There's no way they'd be able to care properly for a child."
Even Catholic views seem to be changing. "Jane," a Miamian who asked to remain anonymous, say options like adoption can prevent the need for abortion in those cases."Someone who is using abortion as a means to resolve the fact that she did not take the proper precautions ... can go through nine uncomfortable months and then give the baby to someone who really wants one and doesn't have the biological ability to reproduce. That is a more responsible way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy in my opinion." But she disagrees with her faith's views on contraceptives. "As a Catholic, and a woman, I take no issue with the use of contraceptives; in fact, I think anyone who is not ready to raise a family should use any conceivable method to prevent pregnancy, and that includes birth control," she explained. "And yes, I do believe that insurance should cover contraceptives. But I do not agree with someone who neglects to use protection and just walks into a Planned Parenthood office and gets a free abortion."
The Florida Democratic Party, the Republican Party of Florida, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami did not return comment in time for this article.