'Tears flowing in our health center today': Anticipated Roe decision still shocks in Palm Beach County
When Skye Lenkersdorf woke up Friday morning, she saw the paragraphs of angry text messages from her mother before she heard the news.
She prodded her boyfriend, still asleep beside her.
“They reversed Roe v. Wade,” she said.
He cursed, and she buried her head in his chest. She had read that this was coming but hadn’t truly believed it.
The patients in the waiting room of the Florida Mango Health Center of West Palm Beach might not have realized the moment the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but the staff behind the counter learned of it immediately.
Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, walked into the health-care center and found her colleagues grieving.
“It’s devastating,” she said over the phone. Her voice broke. “There are tears flowing in our health center today.”
In a sweeping 5-4 decision Friday, the court had overturned the constitutional right to abortion established 49 years ago by Roe v. Wade. Friday's decision, which also reversed the court's 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that had reaffirmed access to abortion as a constitutional right, returned the decisions on whether a woman can terminate a pregnancy to the states and their elected officials.
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West Palm Beach, Delray Beach protests
Abortion rights advocates gathered in rallies Friday evening in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach to protest the ruling.
By then, Lenkersdorf, 21, and her mother had gathered homemade pins with pro-abortion rights slogans into Tupperware and hauled them from their car to the lawn on Clematis Street.
“Here we go again, right?” her mother said.
The gathering of about 80 women and men, some with tattoos and pink dyed hair and others with gardening hats and grandchildren, met on the lawn to grieve the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
It feels like a loved one has died, said Emergency Medical Assistance’s Francine Sachs — like a loved one who’s been sick for a long time. She knew it was coming, but the pain is still awful.
People nodded, fanning themselves with signs that read “Bans Off Our Bodies.” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, took Sachs' place in the center of the circle and squinted into the crowd. She held a megaphone to her mouth.
“The sun is bright, but this is dark day in our history,” she said.
She spoke about the days before Roe v. Wade, like when she found a friend bleeding to death. The horror stories are endless, she said, and they’re about to multiply across the country. Those at Friday’s rally should funnel their outrage into action, Frankel said. Vote, she said, march, donate to advocacy groups, and “keep fighting.”
“Be relentless every day,” she said.
'We need new leaders'
Goodhue had awaited the decision with dread but anticipating its arrival didn’t lessen the shock and despair it brought, she said.
The decision affects everyone, she said. The only way forward, she added, is to “fight like hell.”
“We need new leaders. We need people that are willing to protect pregnant people, not come in between pregnant people and their doctors,” Goodhue said. “And that’s what we’re going to be fighting for.”
West Palm Beach clinic's attorney: Roe has been 'eviscerated'
Louis Silber, who has acted as an on-call attorney for the Presidential Women’s Center in West Palm Beach since the early 1990s, called the decision a “terrible tragedy” for Floridians.
His eyes are on Tallahassee, where health-care centers around Florida have filed a lawsuit challenging a new law that effectively bans access to abortion after 15 weeks and is set to take effect July 1. The current window to perform an abortion is 24 weeks.
The outcome of that lawsuit is even more important now that Roe has been “eviscerated,” Silber said.
“We don’t have a rape exception. We don’t have an incest exception,” the attorney said. “We don’t even have an exception for fetal abnormalities, unless there’s two doctors who will say the fetus will not survive.”
The decision is a blow, he added, but not a defeat. He’s worked with the staff at the clinic long enough to know that they’re resilient.
“They’re going to roll up their sleeves and provide the very best health care they can, within the law,” Silber said. “That’s what they’ve always done.”
The fight is not over for Palm Beach County Right to Life League president
Palm Beach County Right to Life League President Willy Guardiola also plans to continue a fight he says he has been waging for nearly 50 years.
He has dedicated himself to stopping abortions by supporting candidates, campaigning and by diverting women from clinics providing abortion services, an activity he refers to as "a save."
"I've always pushed adoption over abortion," he said. "People have been going to China to adopt babies. Now they can stay right here."
A "save," he said, depends very much on providing support for a woman struggling with the decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy.
"If you don't do that, they will turn around and return to the abortion clinic the next week," he said. He recounted how after taking a young woman he met at a clinic to a "crisis pregnancy center" he was able to offer her the reassurance that 400 people were praying for her, and that he had raised $2,500 for her.
He also has pushed Gov. Ron DeSantis for the past three years, he said, to pass and sign a Florida ban on abortions, “or at least a six-week heartbeat ban.”
A total ban on abortions in Florida is more important to his cause now, he said, as states bordering Florida have moved to ban abortion completely or ban access to abortions after six weeks. Guardiola anticipates “vans of six to eight women” seeking abortions crossing the state line into Jacksonville.
He is calling on the governor to call a special session to push legislation through.
That it hasn’t happened yet has been his one disappointment in the man he otherwise calls the “greatest governor in the country.”
"He’s just kind of pushing it off to the side,” Guardiola said. “He doesn’t want to rock the boat. He wants the votes.”
Former Planned Parenthood leader: 'Our patients are more scared, more confused'
"It's really a dark and horrific time," Lillian Tamayo, who retired from leading Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida in April. The organization she served as president and CEO provided services from Key West to the Georgia line and across the Panhandle.
Florida's geographic position, among neighboring states that have passed restrictive laws barring abortion access, makes it vulnerable to political targeting amid growing challenges, she said.
"Our patients are more scared, more confused, in greater need, traveling longer distances, to get the care they need.
"I'm very concerned that we are just a special session or a legislative session away from banning abortion in Florida," she said. "Therefore, the fight is real."
She is inspired by the opportunity that retirement has given her to serve as a volunteer, she said
"I'm not prepared to stop fighting."
Lois Frankel: 'It will disproportionately hurt people of color'
"The decision goes against the will of the American people," Franke said earlier Friday. It did not surprise her, but it shocked her, she added.
“I almost feel like I was hit by lightning,” she said.
In a state where Republicans control the Legislature, she added, the effects of the decision are scary. “It will disproportionately hurt people of color,” she said.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, passed last year by the U.S. House to protect abortion access from state legislatures and court decisions, offers “the quickest and most effective way to fight back,” Frankel said, adding that it is unlikely to go through the current Senate.
“Fight back at the ballot box,” Frankel said. “We get what we elect.”
She hopes the decision moves voters to weigh the consequences of their choices.
In the meantime, she said, “This will go down as one of the saddest days in American history.”
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at email@example.com.