Florida’s Legislature is trying to trample women’s rights gained over the past century | Opinion

Click to see the original article in the Miami Herald.

“And a woman’s rights shall be trampled.”

That should be the title for the 2021 Florida legislative session. While women around the globe are celebrating our achievements during Women’s History Month, the Republican majority is showing its true colors when it comes to equality.

GOP legislators have introduced a litany of regressive bills targeting women’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to reproductive freedom, free speech, organizing, and voting.

As we close in on the first anniversary of a public-health crisis that has disproportionately affected women — especially women of color — the GOP is seeking to reverse the gains women have made on equality, instead of supporting our recovery and progress.

House Bill 1, the so-called “Protest Bill,” would violate our First Amendment rights by creating a new “aggravated riot” felony charge for protesters. Not only is this bill racist, seeking to silence the women-led Black Lives Matter movement, but it also ignores the historical role of protest in advancing women’s rights. The Women’s Suffrage movement relied heavily on large protests for nearly a century before women were given the right to vote, and the power of its legacy lives on in the Women’s March movement today.

In a further snub to Suffragettes, Florida Republicans are working to disenfranchise women with the introduction of Senate Bill 90.

This bill, which would require yearly renewal for absentee ballot requests, is an undemocratic, partisan attempt to reduce Democrats’ current vote-by-mail advantage. Given that about 51 percent of Florida voters are women, this bill would disproportionately silence our powerful voice in government as Florida enters a gubernatorial election cycle.

Women-dominated unions are another target for the Florida GOP. They’ve introduced four bills that would make it harder for teacher unions — which are about 80 percent women — to organize by requiring them to re-establish their union every three years.

In a year in which teachers have already put their lives on the line to educate our children during a pandemic, this legislation would make it harder for them to advocate for better working conditions and fair wages while wasting tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in Miami-Dade County alone. All this while male-dominated unions such as firefighters and police have somehow escaped these restrictions.

In a year that has seen more than 2 million women pushed out of the workforce, while others put their lives on the line as essential front-line healthcare workers and educators, Republican legislators have made it clear that their priority is not to provide critical aid to those most affected by the pandemic, but to reverse gains women have made in the last century.

Republican legislators are also wasting no time in moving to restrict women’s rights to make our own decisions about our bodies, health and future with several bills that would further restrict and stigmatize abortion.

By chipping away at our reproductive rights, they’ve made no secret of their ultimate goal — to ban abortion outright.

Their dangerous, out-of-touch bills criminalize doctors and prevent pregnant women from accessing all medically necessary options when it comes to reproductive healthcare.

Florida HB 351, HB 1221, and HB 1437 ignore the reality that abortion access affects educational and professional outcomes for women while trampling on our fundamental right to autonomy over our bodies.

Florida’s women and families deserve better. The state needs new, women-led leadership that will fight to erase, not deepen, inequities aggravated by the pandemic.

Women make up more than half of Florida’s population, but the state has never elected a woman governor, and women make up only 34 percent of Florida’s Legislature.

If we are to reverse this dangerous assault on our freedoms and equality, we need to inspire, encourage and support more women in running for public office. We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history and, if anything, Women’s History Month gives us pause to recognize and honor the women who fought so hard to bring us to this point.

It is incumbent upon all of us to protect and advance their legacy, doing everything in our power to stop those who are intent on destroying it.

Dr. Karen Morian is a member of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality steering committee. Karla Hernandez Mats is president of the United Teachers of Dade. Lucy Sedgwick is president and CEO of Ruth’s List Florida.

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Ruth’s List Florida is the only organization dedicated to electing Democratic, pro-choice women up and down the ballot in Florida. Since 2008, Ruth’s List Florida has raised more than $5,000,000 for Democratic women candidates, trained more than 2,100 women, and elected nearly 200 women to state and local office.