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Florida Democratic Leaders Arrested While Protesting 6-Week Abortion Ban

In addition to attacking bodily autonomy, Republicans are trampling on free speech and assembly rights, one group said.

Screengrabs of video footage that shows protesters, including two Florida Democratic leaders, being arrested during a demonstration against a proposed six-week abortion ban on April 3, 2023.

Two Florida Democratic leaders were among the protesters arrested late Monday during a demonstration against a proposed six-week abortion ban, which the Republican-controlled state Senate passed hours earlier.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book were handcuffed and detained along with roughly a dozen other protesters who gathered and sat down in a park near Tallahassee City Hall.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that Fried, Book, and the other demonstrators “were taken away by police while sitting in a circle and singing ‘Lean on Me’ inside a barricaded area of a park that was closed at sunset.”

“They were warned by police that if they didn’t leave the area, they would be subject to arrest,” the newspaper continued. “As a large contingent of police approached, protesters yelled ‘shame, shame’ as everyone was cuffed and walked to the parking garage beneath City Hall and loaded into a Tallahassee Police Department van.”

The advocacy group Ruth’s List Florida condemned the arrests of peaceful demonstrators as “the latest disgraceful assault on our civil liberties.”

“It’s not enough for FL Republicans to take away our bodily autonomy, now they’re trampling on our rights of free speech and assembly,” the group wrote on Twitter. “DeSantis wants to make Florida into an autocracy, and his Republican allies are handing it to him on a silver platter. We stand in solidarity with our Democratic leaders for being at the forefront of this fight, and taking action that is well within our rights.”

The abortion ban legislation passed the Florida Senate on Monday by a vote of 26-13, with the chamber’s Democrats and two Republicans voting no. The bill, backed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now heads to the Florida House, which is also controlled by Republicans.

“The women of this state will not forget the names of the 26 cowards who refused to stand up to Ron DeSantis,” Fried said following the Senate vote. “You all will go down with him, not a threat, a promise.”

Hours after her arrest, Fried wrote on Twitter: “I’m out. And not ever backing down.”

Abortion is currently banned in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy. As the Associated Press reported, the new ban “would only take effect if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge that is before the state Supreme Court.”

Florida is one of dozens of Republican-dominated states that have implemented draconian abortion bans since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year.

“Many states have passed near-total bans on abortion with very limited exceptions or banned the procedure early in pregnancy,” the Guttmacher Institute noted in a recent report. “Courts have blocked some of these bans from taking effect, ushering in a chaotic legal landscape that is disruptive for providers trying to offer care and patients trying to obtain it.”

Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative director and senior policy counsel, called the Florida Senate’s Monday vote “a disgrace” and warned the proposed six-week abortion ban would “unfairly and disproportionately impact people who live in rural communities, people with low incomes, people with disabilities, and people of color.”

“Hundreds of thousands of pregnant people will be forced to travel out of state to seek the care they need,” Gross continued. “Many people will not even know they are pregnant by six weeks, and for those who do, it is unlikely they will be able to schedule the legally required two in-person doctor’s appointments before six weeks of pregnancy.”

“This bill is an extreme governmental overreach that’s being orchestrated across the country,” Gross added. “We all should have the freedom to make decisions about our bodies, lives, and futures without interference from politicians.”

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