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Florida women respond to six-week abortion ban and November's amendment vote

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Gainesville, Florida. (Noor Sukkar/WUFT News)
A Planned Parenthood clinic in Gainesville, Florida. (Noor Sukkar/WUFT News)

For nearly one month, Floridians have lived under the strictest abortion ban the state has ever seen. Despite the tighter restriction on reproductive health care, some north Florida women say they hope voting can change the new reality.

The 6-week abortion ban went into effect on May 1. It replaced the 15-week ban that went into effect in July 2022, just after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The closest state that allows a longer gestational limit is North Carolina at 12 weeks.

In an April statement, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, “I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families.”

Dr. Chelsea Daniels is a Planned Parenthood staff physician for south, east and north Florida. She explained how a woman is already considered four weeks pregnant if she misses her period, leaving only two weeks to know for sure.

“People come in pregnant and are suddenly faced with this reality of having to leave the state for what is basic, essential medical care,” she said. “They’re terrified, and they’re angry, and they have every right to be.”

Plenty of patients she sees come in expecting an abortion having no clue about the newly enacted ban, she said. “I finish work every day feeling like I was hit by a truck,” Daniels said.

She argues that all abortion bans are discriminatory, taking power away from women and into the hands of politicians, many, if not most, without medical degrees. It forces physicians to operate in “legally murky territory,” she said.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Administration, more than 84,000 abortions were reported in Florida in 2023. Daniels said she believes there’s no way another state can accommodate all those people.

“In no other branch of medicine are doctors expected to determine the legality of something prior to providing care,” she said.

In north Miami, Daniels said she sees college students nearly every day. She said she believes younger patients get an abundance of misinformation about abortion and birth control online. Thus, a lot of her time with patients is spent counseling and providing sex education on safe options.

Gainesville has only a handful of abortion clinics in the area. Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center and All Women’s Health Center of Gainesville declined to comment on the recent ban.

Planned Parenthood Generation Action is a club at the University of Florida that aims to achieve reproductive justice by educating and providing resources. Amanda Hiatt, club vice president and a junior triple majoring in political science, women’s studies and African American studies, said she’s concerned this will disproportionately affect intersectional identities.

“It’s been really, really scary for a lot of people I know,” Hiatt said. “This doesn’t feel like just an abortion ban. It feels like a ban on their sexuality.”

She points out that no matter how many precautions one takes, different types of birth control can still fail, assuming the student had access to them in the first place. The club’s “Brown Bag Project” is an initiative to give students access to contraceptives discreetly. Students can request Plan B, condoms, dental dams and pregnancy tests.

“I hate to say it, but rich, white women will always be able to access abortion, and they will be able to go to other places,” she said. “This is an attack on poor people. It’s an attack on people of color. An attack on queer people.”

Anna Peterson, an ethicist and a professor in the religion department at UF, said explicitly religious language and expressions of Christian nationalism are used among judges and lawmakers, something Peterson says is “shocking” and unconstitutional.

“My fear would be that many providers would not want to do the procedure, even when it’s clearly with the intent of saving a woman’s life,” she said.

Referring to cases of wanted pregnancies with fetal abnormalities or medical complications that cannot be detected or predicted before six weeks, she said, “[Providers] are afraid of getting sued even though, theoretically, the law provides for that exception.”

“A six-week ban is essentially a complete ban,” she said.

Peterson shared that she had an abortion when she was in graduate school. At the time, she lacked the privilege and resources to make the life-altering decision to have a baby, she said.

“I have a 24-year-old daughter. If she got pregnant, I could afford to buy her a plane ticket,” she said. “Not everyone has those resources.”

In November, Floridians will be able to vote on Amendment 4, a move that if passed, would allow citizens to make decisions on abortion laws. Voting yes would support establishing a constitutional right to abortion before fetal viability.

“It’s scary seeing all of this being stripped away and it feels like everything is out of our control,” said Emma Sanchez, the political co-director of Planned Parenthood Generation Action. “But we do have something we can do.”

The club’s main push is the “Yes on 4” initiative. Hiatt said their biggest goal within these upcoming months is nailing the sentiment, getting people on the ground and continuing to provide resources.

“That’s really the only long-term change we can do and that’s the best thing we can do in this time to mitigate long-term impacts, unfortunately,” she said.

“This is clearly a threat that is mobilizing people,” Peterson said. “I think it’s fascinating that in Florida, we’ve got this very restrictive ban, but we also have abortion on the ballot in the fall. I hope that brings people out to vote.”

Daniels echoed that sentiment and said this amendment is hugely important for young people.

“It is the optimism and the hope that I have that this amendment is going to pass is what keeps me coming to work every day and feeling so passionate about this,” she said.

Noor is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.