Leveraging the moment: Florida Rep. Eskamani organizes rally and canvass to get abortion access on the ballot

The event falls on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade

click to enlarge Leveraging the moment: Florida Rep. Eskamani organizes rally and canvass to get abortion access on the ballot
Photo by Matt Keller Lehman

It’s been nearly one year since the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which overturned the federal constitutional right to abortion and opened the doors for some of the most restrictive abortion policies the United States has seen in decades.

In that time, support for legal abortion among the general public has risen, but you wouldn’t know it from headlines announcing the gutting of abortion rights, courtesy of anti-choice Republican lawmakers in states across the country.

Here in Orlando, a Democratic stronghold of Florida, some elected leaders plan to channel the rage of everyday Floridians against the Supreme Court decision that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade into action.

Florida House member Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, is organizing a “One Year After Dobbs” rally and canvassing opportunity on Saturday to help get abortion rights on Florida’s 2024 ballot. U.S. Congressman Maxwell Frost, as well as representatives of the local Hope CommUnity Center and the Florida Access Network, will also be in attendance.

“Everybody loves to protest,” Rep. Eskamani told Orlando Weekly. “But with the call to action being so clear and in front of us, we want to really leverage every minute we have.”

The event is scheduled for Saturday, June 24 — the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision (although a leaked memo of the Supreme Court’s plans were first reported by Politico last May).

Since June 24, 2022, Florida’s one of over a dozen states that have moved to either further restrict or ban abortion access, while a handful of others have reaffirmed them with new legal protections. A national anti-abortion movement is seeking to abolish abortion access completely.

In Florida, abortion is currently legal up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. A new bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 13 (in a late-night, closed-door meeting) seeks to further cut that down to six weeks, but that limit is contingent upon the outcome of a lawsuit over the 15-week limit.

Prior to last April, abortion was legal in Florida up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, although still subject to other regulations, such as restricted access to abortion for minors and a 24-hour waiting period between appointments to actually get an abortion.

According to Eskamani, the plan on Saturday is to hold a short rally to, first, discuss the stakes.

But, in a greater call to action, they’ll also be canvassing afterward to collect petitions for an initiative, first launched in may, to re-extend Florida’s abortion limit to medical fetal viability, or about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Advocates have collected over 100,000 petitions so far out of nearly 900,000 needed by Feb. 1, 2024, to get that initiative onto the ballot and allow Florida voters to decide.

Two hundred fifty thousand petitions are needed for a Florida Supreme Court review of the ballot measure’s language, per Eskamani.

Where the campaign stands today, even with the progress made thus far, “Every second counts.”

click to enlarge State Rep. Anna Eskamani - Photo by Matt Keller Lehman
Photo by Matt Keller Lehman
State Rep. Anna Eskamani

If you’ve never canvassed, or done something like this before, however, Eskamani says not to worry.

“You’ll be in good company,” she said. Organizers will be offering training beforehand, and you’ll also have the opportunity to be paired up with a more experienced volunteer.

“We’re not going to put anyone out to pasture by themselves,” she added.

The rally begins at 10 a.m., and the goal is to be transitioning to the canvassing portion by 10:45 and wrap things up by 12:30 p.m. The rally will begin indoors, before attendees move outdoors for canvassing and door-knocking. The exact location is TBD, but organizers are urging residents to RSVP ahead of time.

“We’re not going to win if everyday people are not plugged in,” said Eskamani, who regularly hosts political organizing trainings for students and young people.

Already a multimillion-dollar effort, the Floridians Protecting Freedom campaign to get abortion on the ballot recently hired its first paid petitioners.

But mobilizing Orlando residents — anyone who wants to be involved and who is passionate about the issue — is the point. “It really has to be a collective grassroots effort to not be done alone just through paid operations,” said Eskamani.

Later on Saturday, Stand With Abortion Now (SWAN), an abortion clinic escort group, also holds an event to commemorate one year post-Roe. As crushing as the decision was for its founding members, it was also the impetus for their decision to form last year and to stand guard against anti-abortion protesters outside one of Orlando’s only licensed abortion clinics.

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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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