What does the overturning of Roe v. Wade mean for Floridians seeking an abortion?
Find out what abortion laws in Florida will be after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And what does it mean for Floridians seeking an abortion?
Javon L. Harris and Brad McClenny, The Gainesville Sun
Jean Chance, just four years into her journalism teaching career, opened the doors to her home to five students plotting a felony in defense of the First Amendment.
It was 1971, a time when abortion and publication of abortion resources were illegal under an 1868 statute. Ron Sachs, then editor-in-chief of The Florida Alligator student newspaper, sought to upend that — and he did.
But more than 50 years later, the attack on abortion rights continues.
The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade Friday, waiving the constitutional right to abortion for women. Nearly half of the states have or are expected to enact abortion bans. At least 22, according to the Guttmacher Institute, already have laws in place that would do just that.
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Four states, including Florida, are likely to follow suit, as Republican lawmakers passed a 15-week abortion ban in April. It goes into effect in July.
“The pendulum now is swinging back to the right,” said Sachs, now 71.
Alligator’s history with abortion
Nestled in Chance’s wooded home off Millhopper Road, the students debated the publication of abortion referral agencies for those in need.
The list became part of an ongoing special report on abortion, that included the Catholic Student Center. The Board of Student Publications, governing agent of the Alligator, approved the article. University of Florida President Stephen O’Connell, however, overrode the board’s decision and forbade Sachs and others from running it.
The Alligator staff unanimously voted to print the list anyway.
“Breaking the law can be a healthy experience,” wrote columnist John Parker in the Oct. 4, 1971 edition. He pointed out that a Florida statute prohibited juggling and called jugglers a “hearty breed.”
Chance shuffled upstairs and woke up her lawyer husband at the time, Chuck Chance. She vowed to hand Sachs a dime to make a landline call once Sachs got arrested for publishing the article if he chose.
Being a rebel wasn’t new to Sachs, who also disobeyed the orders of his high school principal in his senior year to cover a teacher strike. The principal suspended him for two weeks. But in this case, he faced far more dire circumstances: a year in prison or a $1,000 fine for the felony and expulsion.
Luckily for Sachs, Chuck Chance agreed to represent him at the trial.
Now the couple was all in.
“We teach the First Amendment at every journalism course in our college,” Jean Chance said. “Not to stand up would be so hypocritical.”
Around 2 am, just before publication, Sachs called O’Connell from Chance’s telephone. Sachs apologized for the late call and informed him he planned to “respectfully disobey” his directive.
“I wasn’t trying to surprise him or sucker punch him,” Sachs said. “I just wanted to tell him the truth. We thought we owed it to our responsibility as budding, as Alligator staffers, and as students to take on this law.”
In a pre-dawn bustle on Oct. 6, Sachs and the staff stashed the papers with 22,000 copies of the counseling list. The copies ran alongside an article written by Sachs titled “Archaic abortion law gets another test,” where he wrote: “Florida Statute 797.02 is unconstitutional, restraining the press from printing what are well-acknowledged facts that abortions may be legally obtained.”
Sachs was arrested that same day.
A jailer mocked him, saying “I knew we’d get you here someday,” referring to an exposé Sachs wrote on the county jail.
His parents received newspaper clippings of Sachs outlined in devil horns. Gainesville Sun editorial writer at the time, Buddy Davis, berated Sachs in the paper. But Sachs said he never regretted the decision.
“I didn’t have some yearning desire to go to prison,” Sachs said. “When you’re in the slammer, it’s not a really good graduate course for somebody who wants to be a newsman. But I felt we were on solid ground.”
Two months later, Sachs’ notion held firm. Alachua Judge Benmont Tench struck down the abortion law, which had stood for 103 years.
Florida’s restrictions on newsrooms lifted, and the legislature rewrote the law. The law was not the most liberal in the country, but Sachs said it was “more 1971.”
A rift with UF
Though abortion rights advanced in 1971, The Alligator’s future faced uncertainty.
O’Connell, a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice, questioned in October if he held prior restraint, meaning the power to censor materials. The attorney general’s office said “no.” So O’Connell forced it off-campus. Soon monetary halted.
Some viewed it as an effort to kill off the student publication. But it allowed it to become independent, self-sustaining, and completely detached from UF. The change allowed critical discussion over issues without fear of retribution from campus officials.
In May, following the leaked draft of the Roe v. Wade reversal, the newspaper published a Planned Parenthood advertisement highlighting abortion clinics.
“Seeing that go out was very critical to the whole reason that we are independent, and we have the liberty to report on things that we otherwise might not have,” said Julia Coin, the paper’s current editor-in-chief. “It allows us to act as first and students second.”
Moving forward from the past
Jean Chance, now 82, remembers seeing much change over the years in Alachua County.
In her senior year, the women’s dress code loosened; They could finally wear Bermuda shorts, situated two inches above the knee. Women’s liberation still didn’t exist, she said.
She remembers students rioting for beer stronger than the 3.2% alcohol the county sold, she said.
Now, she said the Supreme Court retrogresses.
“We are in the midst of a major shift from a more moderate or liberal ruling to…an extreme ruling on the conservative side,” she said. “It’s astounding, historically speaking, for this to happen. I think there is an undercurrent of racism; There is an undercurrent of elitism. It does not speak well for the moral compass.”
Chance said she is most concerned about her daughter, her granddaughter and her daughter-in-law.
“I feel bad for my family because they are the ones that are going to have to make the (changes),” she said.