TAMPA, Fla. — The fallout from the leaked Supreme Court draft majority opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade continues to fuel fiery debates and views across the United States.
People for and against abortions have taken to the streets to praise or condemn what the future of reproductive rights will become.
Politico broke the story and forced every news agency to scramble to confirm it was real.
The Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts put out a statement on behalf of the court. They confirmed the document's authenticity, saying, "Although the document described in yesterday's reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case."
Roberts also called the leak a "singular and egregious breach" of trust but defended the court's workforce and integrity, saying this will not undermine its operation.
A DOCTOR'S PERSPECTIVE
"My initial reaction was just heartbreak," Dr. Rachel Rapkin, a physician at Planned Parenthood, told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska. "We have worked, and our ancestors have worked for so long to fight for these constitutional rights to control our own bodies. And to see that shattered is heartbreaking for myself as an abortion provider and for so many of my patients."
Confusion and concern are two words we heard a lot during the report. So many women seeking an abortion don't know if they can get one.
Rapkin said the leak already has real-world impacts.
"I think people are confused after this leak came out and think, 'oh, no, I can't have my abortion.' No. You can absolutely still have your abortion now because it is still legal. And we are still providing services," Rapkin said. "The risk of dying in childbirth is about 10 times greater than the risk of dying in an abortion. So when I say I take the lives of my patients seriously, I really mean that. Again, providing abortion care is absolutely providing medical care."
"Most people have abortions early in pregnancy, so much earlier than 15 weeks," Rapkin said. "So, we'll still be able to provide access to all of those patients. And for those that we can't provide access to, Planned Parenthood will work really hard to network and get them the services they need. Whether that be getting them out of state and finding somewhere where they can access a legal abortion."
"If you could sit across from someone pro-life and tell them why you provide this service, what would you tell them?" Paluska asked.
"I would say that I'm also pro-life, I am pro my patients' life, I am pro whatever it needs, whatever that patient needs, to further their life, whether I'm providing an abortion because they have a serious medical condition, and I'm performing an abortion to save their lives. I would say I'm pro their life when I am performing an abortion for a fetal abnormality, and I'm helping to prevent the suffering of a baby to live. I am pro their life when I'm doing an abortion because if they stayed pregnant and stayed in the relationship they're in, they would be abused and possibly beaten to death. So all of these are our pro-life stances."
TAMPA BAY PRO-LIFE ALLIANCE
"The mission is to end abortion in the Tampa Bay area," Phyllis Esposito, Director of Tampa Bay Pro-Life Alliance, said. "And until we do that, we want to give people the tools to get involved."
The nonprofit is made up of all volunteers. Esposito told Paluska she wants to tell women that being pro-choice, in their eyes, means making the right choice.
"Every single human being should have the right to live. And we talk a lot about two options; abortion and parenting. But the truth is, there's another very loving option, and that's adoption. Women have a lot of choices. Being pro-life can also mean being pro-choice. I'm pro-choice. There are lots of choices."
Esposito said she often goes to abortion clinics to do sidewalk counseling.
"It's not something I usually tell a lot of people only because people think of the movies and the negative aspects of what it might look like. I go out there to encourage a woman that she has other choices," Esposito said. "I believe that having a child is a gift and a blessing. And that that child is very precious, and it affects the mother in so many ways even if at the moment when she's having an abortion, she doesn't recognize that it will have a later effect on her. The first thing we know that they will feel is relief. But after that, other feelings will come in their feelings of grief and sorrow, and regret and anger will come after the abortion."
We interviewed Esposito and another board member for the nonprofit, Carole Alexander.
"Well, we need to determine whether and, I don't like saying it this way, but I'm gonna say it; whether women's rights trump human rights," Alexander said. "It really is only as it relates to this idea of the convenience or inconvenience of this child now that's being carried. So if it's convenient, then we champion, and we want rights, and oh, it's a baby, and we'd love it. But if it's inconvenient, then well, it's, you know, it's impacted my life in this way and that way, so my life is above this life. And so I should have the right to abort."
In the late 70s, Alexander told Paluska she planned to get an abortion in college after getting pregnant. However, she said there were no openings the day she went in, so she had to wait an extra day.
"But, my heart just went to being a baby, a baby. And then it came to me that it was my baby. And I cried the rest of the night. I don't know when I went to sleep. But just the thought that this was a human life, that this was my baby, my own flesh and blood," I said, "'Mom, I don't think I can do it.' She said, 'well, we'll just have the baby.' And so we had the baby," Alexander said.
"But those emotions, the thing that happened to me, if I hadn't had, my money was on the table at the abortion clinic had I not had that time, overnight. I think about how different my life would have been. All my friends called my son the gift that keeps on giving."
Her son Scott is now a father of four. Grandkids Alexander wouldn't have today if she had made a different choice.
Alexander is also the CEO of the Next STEPP Pregnancy Center in St. Petersburg. The center offers services, clothes, diapers, formula, and support for families facing unintended pregnancy and related pregnancy and parenting challenges.
Alexander wants to stress her role on the board does not reflect the work at the pregnancy center and that no one is turned away no matter what choice they make.
"We're not here saying, don't get an abortion, period," Alexander said. "We're saying abortion will hurt you, not just your baby. And we want to help walk with you. So that you can see that there is hope and having a child is not a bad thing; it's a blessing. It's a good thing. And if you choose to not parent this child, we'll walk alongside of you to help you place that child in a loving home."
A MOM'S HEARTBREAK
But for many women, the decision to have an abortion or deliver their baby isn't so simple.
"About eight years ago, my husband and I decided that we were ready to start a family. And we were fortunate that we had no trouble getting pregnant," Leah said.
She asked us not to use her last name for fear of threats against her family
"We confirmed that we were pregnant, and I went to the doctor to schedule a time to have our 12-week ultrasound."
Leah said the tech left the room during the checkup, and the doctor walked in "and told us that the fetus had anencephaly, which I had never heard that word before. But apparently, it's a fetal abnormality where the skull and brain don't fully form. So it's not a condition that is compatible with life; it has a 100% mortality rate should you be able to carry it to term; most of them are stillborn. If they are born alive, they might live for a few hours."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in every 4,600 babies is born with anencephaly in the United States. There is no known cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Almost all babies born with anencephaly will die shortly after birth.
"When presented with a 100% mortality rate, there wasn't much of a decision," Leah said. "I shut down emotionally. I was devastated. You have all these hopes and expectations. I was so hopeful, and to have that ripped away. It was awful. I went home and had to grieve."
Leah and her husband now have three children. Despite her heartbreak of losing her first child, she knows it was the right decision.
"I never felt guilty, and I never felt conflicted about my choice. I always knew that that was the right choice for me. I'm grateful for my abortion. My abortion was a blessing. I had an abortion, and two months later, I got pregnant with our son. If there was ever any doubt that that was the right call, I just have to look at him."
Leah was hesitant to come forward and tell her story. But, she feels that she needed to help other women who might suffer a similar loss in the current climate and attack on women's reproductive rights.
"I think I have some nerves and sharing it in this forum. Because there are a lot of people out there who would judge me for making this choice, this choice that I feel very strongly was the right choice for me and my and my family," Leah said.
"How worried are you for women now that will be faced, unfortunately, with these scenarios and possibly not be able to have access to an abortion?" Paluska asked.
"I'm really worried. That's why I'm talking to you; I can't imagine being faced with the situation that I was faced with and not having an option or having to travel out of state, out of the country," Leah said.
As the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance, Leah can't imagine on one of the worst, most personal, and private days of her life, that a politician could have any control over her body.
"I think that the main health risk would have been the emotional and psychological toll being forced to carry to term a pregnancy that, you know, will end in the mortality," Leah said. "I made the decision with my spouse, with my doctor. I can't imagine if a politician had been able to tell me what the right thing for my body for my family was in that moment. It's enraging."
"Politics could dictate what a medical professional tells you," Paluska said.
"Politicians. And most of the time, did not go into med school, and they're certainly not in my life, in my body, and should not be in my uterus," Leah said. "It's a personal decision. If your religion tells you that hope and prayer are right for you, that's great. You do you; let me make my decision between whatever higher power I believe in, which may not be the same one."
The future of reproductive rights is creating a new generation of activists.
"At Generation Action on campus at USF, we have well over 600 members who are very passionate about this issue," Ellie Levesque said.
Levesque is the outgoing president of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at USF, a group she started three years ago.
"It's a national student organization that's directly affiliated with Planned Parenthood. And we represent Planned Parenthood on campus, and we do a lot of activism, education, and outreach," Levesque said. "I have been going through the motions during my week of graduation, and during finals week, as a student. And, it's been hard, you know, some tears have been shed. But this further cements my future for me. And you know why I am going to go to law school for reproductive law. It's telling me, Ellie, you need to do this, like, you have no choice. This is your calling."
"When you're out at a protest or gathering or a march, what is the power you get when you see other like-minded people out there fighting for the same rights?" Paluska asked.
"In times like this, where the climate can be very disheartening, especially with the draft leak from the Supreme Court?" Levesque said. "It gives me hope, you know, yeah, to see other people out there. And the passion and energy that everyone brings. It's very helpful."
Levesque said Planned Parenthood plans to continue doing everything it can to protect the health and wellness of women everywhere. For more information on the history of Roe v. Wade, click here.