A group of local women gathered Tuesday morning for a Florida Institute for Reform and Empowerment (F.I.R.E.) event to announce a protest against HB 1411, which will drastically restrict access to abortions and limit funding to facilities that provide them when it goes into effect July 1.

They tore into Gov. Rick Scott and called him a “health care hypocrite” for taking a stand against the Zika virus but also restricting access to necessary health care for women with the bill.

Attending the event were LaQuinta Alexander, F.I.R.E. Reproductive Justice Organizer, Women to Women Mentoring CEO Gail Gardner, local environmental attorney Josephine Balzac and racial justice committee leader and Organize Now member Lacresha Thomas.

HB 1411 enacts sweeping laws against abortion – it would restrict local governmental, state agencies and Medicaid plans from “expending or paying funds to or initiating or renewing contracts under certain circumstances with certain organizations that perform abortions,” among other provisions requiring abortion clinics to document their work, requiring the Agency for Health Care Administration to make rules about license inspections for doctors who perform abortions, and tightening laws on disposal of fetuses after abortions.

Given Scott’s position against the Zika virus, all four women speaking thought he was a hypocrite for signing HB 1411 – with the summer rains and heat coming sure to attract mosquitoes that could carry the Zika virus, they said Scott’s restrictions on abortion clinics would put women in greater danger of Zika or other health care risks from diseases.

Balzac called climate change “the biggest threat of our time,” and linked climate change and health care with the social factors that result in the oppression of poor women and women of color.

She also cited one of the United Nations goals for a sustainable future: empowering all women and girls, achieving gender equality and insuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for women.

“Climate justice highlights the impact of climate change on the vulnerable, marginalized and poor, who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather events, heat waves, droughts and storms,” she said. “Climate justice links human rights and developments to achieve a human-centered approach safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change. The passing of HB 1411 will jeopardize a woman’s right to access a safe and legally protected health care option by making it more difficult for a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy to access the care she needs.”

She ended by reminding Scott and the Florida legislature that “climate change is real, and abortion is a constitutional right that we will not allow them to deny any longer.”

Thomas started off by saying she was pro-choice. She told her own story – she has five children but had also had an abortion at one point in her life. She said she was pro-choice because “whatever decision I make is what I feel is important for me.”

“In all the insults and judgments passed upon abortion, I want to say that it is not the government’s decision to force upon a woman to have a child,” she said. “You personally may be one who complains about your tax dollars, or welfare moms. But it is the woman, or the teenaged person, who will have to deal with the economic and financial struggle of providing for an unborn child. It is her decision. And in reality, it is none of your business.”

In a sentiment echoed by all of the other panelists, Thomas said the legislators’ continued priorities of legislating women’s health care made some women more vulnerable to Zika, due to the insufficient resources from the new limits that will be put into play.

“Abortion is not the government’s problem or responsibility,” she said. “But better health care for the people is.”

F.I.R.E. plans to do more protests and hopefully get the community engaged in their opposition against HB 1411.

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