In a state where doctors perform more than 70,000 abortions a year, the next few months are pivotal to how much access Floridians will have to the procedure. Activity on multiple fronts is underway to make Floridians aware of what’s at stake and fight back against new abortion restrictions approved since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The 15-week abortion ban that became law in Florida in 2022 could become a six-week limit within the next few months.
Here is where the pushback is happening.
In Florida, the main battleground is in the state Supreme Court.
After lawmakers passed a 15-week ban in 2022, seven abortion clinics and physician Shelly Hsiao-Ying Tien filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality. On Sept. 8, justices will hear arguments over whether a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution protects abortion rights.
If the justices agree the clause protects abortion rights, then women would have the right to have the procedure up until fetal viability, which is about 24 weeks. Florida had allowed abortion through 24 weeks of pregnancy for decades prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
If justices rule the clause doesn’t protect abortion rights, the outcome would trigger a six-week ban passed by the state legislature earlier this year. The new six-week limit would go into effect 30 days after the court’s ruling.
Already two restrictions effect abortion: As a result of a recent court decision, women in Florida must wait 24 hours after seeing a doctor in person to get the procedure. And Florida law now requires anyone under 18 to get consent from a parent or legal guardian before having an abortion.
Reproductive rights advocates consider the six-week ban equivalent to the elimination of abortion in Florida, asserting that 66% of women don’t even know they are pregnant at six weeks.
“If the six-week ban were to go into effect, that would be even more hardships for people,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “Most people don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks, especially if they are not trying to get pregnant. And then, with all the other restrictions we have in Florida, it really makes it an insurmountable barrier.”
At the polls
Another battleground is the voting polls.
A coalition of groups in May began a drive to allow Floridians to vote to pass a constitutional amendment to ensure abortion rights. First they have to gather enough signatures to get the amendment on the ballot. The amendment would allow abortion rights up to fetal viability, which has generally been interpreted as about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
So far, the coalition has gathered 600,000 signatures of the 891,523 verified signatures required to get the proposed amendment on the ballot. The goal is to get the Florida Supreme Court to sign off on the ballot language and get the amendment to voters in November 2024, at the same time people are choosing the next U.S. president.
At the polls, it would take 60% of the voters to change the state constitution. In 2022, voters supported abortion rights in six states.
“Round two would be voting for it, but for now we’re just trying to get it on the ballot,” said Mary Eakins-Durand, field manager for Equality Florida.
Raising public awareness
At a roundtable assembled Monday by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, reproductive rights advocates talked about a third place their efforts are focused: The battle for public support. They believe many Floridians are not yet aware that a six-week abortion ban could become law. They want to raise awareness and convince Floridians that abortion is a healthcare issue rather than a religious or political stance.
Wasserman Schultz emphasized the need to educate the public that it is rare for anyone to be cavalier about having an abortion. “There are a lot of emotions tied up in the decision.”
Petition organizers say they encounter a complete unawareness of change in Florida’s abortion law.
“At the mall, collecting petition signatures on a busy Sunday afternoon, most of the people we spoke to had no idea about the 15-week ban we currently are living under and the six-week ban to come,” said Sabrina Javellana of the Reproductive Freedom Collective of Broward County. “They don’t know about parental consent and a 24-hour waiting period. There’s so much outreach education that we need.”
Diamond Delancy, organizing program manager for Planned Parenthood of Southeast and North Florida, said young people are a target group for education.
“The youth are very, very fired up,” she said. “We had a student organizing summit about two weekends ago with 75 students from 18 different colleges who are ready to take that petition back to their colleges and get their folks to sign it.”
Maria Rodriguez of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus said she is working to educate to people of all ages and faiths in the Hispanic community. She recently educated her grandmother. who is a devout Catholic, on why abortion is about a women’s healthcare rights.
“We want to make sure once this petition initiative gets put on the ballot that we connect with the Hispanic community and tell them why this is important,” Rodriguez said. “What we’re saying isn’t working. We need to make sure that we’re looking outward to see how can we message and what can we say that really opens minds.”
In healthcare clinics
Another venue where abortions rights advocates are pushing back are the clinics. Planned Parenthood in Florida has expanded its hours and hired more patient navigators at its 18 locations. The navigators help women find clinics outside the state and are preparing to ramp up with the threat of a six-week limit by year’s end.
“With the 15-week ban we already are busy and have more need for all-around referral services,” said Goodhue of Planned Parenthood. “Now we are coordinating with other states and have a memo of understanding in place with other independent providers and Planned Parenthood providers to send people if we need to.”
In addition, Goodhue said Planned Parenthood clinics have expanded their services to focus more on birth control “We are trying to do more vasectomies and we’re packaging birth control/Plan B kits,” she said. “We also are providing pregnancy tests.”
Recognizing legal abortion as a option may narrow, Goodhue said the clinics are now offering prenatal care.
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at email@example.com.