Florida’s upcoming 6-week abortion ban will affect Hispanic and black women

Thursday was a sad day for Floridians like Estefany Londono, who have long advocated for abortion rights in their home state, as the possibility of a six-week abortion ban taking effect later this year began to slip away.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Londono, 26, said. “People should be able to make those decisions when they’re ready, not because they’re forced into certain situations.”

Latinas and black women working to keep abortions accessible in Florida worry the new law will lead to more women of color being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term — often with worse economic and mental health outcomes.

While women of reproductive age of all races and ethnicities are at risk of unintended pregnancy, Hispanic and black women face a disproportionately higher risk, according to research published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception and Reproductive Medicine.

“The conditions in our state, people who can’t afford abortion care, will end up keeping people pregnant against their will,” Florida Access Network co-executive director Stephanie Lorraine Pinheiro, who runs the only queer-led abortion fund people of color in the state, they said.

The law, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday night, will take effect only if Florida’s current 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge before the state Supreme Court.

Bienvenido US, a Spanish conservative national group, celebrated the news on Friday, calling it “PROFESSIONAL LIFE WIN!” on Twitter. The Radiance Foundation, a non-profit faith-based organization founded by African-American anti-abortion rights activist Ryan Bomberger, shared a Facebook post marking the abortion ban, saying: “We will not stop this #fightforhumanrights until every life not be protected from the violence of abortion and the predators who profit from fear and pain.

Florida is home to 828,100 black women of reproductive age. Among the 1.4 million Latinas of reproductive age, 570,000 are economically insecure and 585,200 are already mothers, according to a November report.

For black and brown people in the state, childbirth can present an additional set of dangers and concerns given the high rates of maternal mortality.

Some also face systemic barriers such as lack of health insurance, health literacy, and access to culturally and linguistically competent health systems, as well as “discriminatory policies that make it difficult for people to access routine health care,” Aurelie Colón-Larrauri, Policy Advocate of Florida State for the National Latino Institute for Reproductive Justice, said.

“Forcing anyone in marginalized communities to continue their pregnancy because they can’t terminate it may actually be contributing to an increase in maternal mortality in the state of Florida,” Colon-Larauri said.

Colón-Larrauri and Piñero worry about how many people will forgo abortion care because they can’t travel or afford the procedure.

“This six-week ban on abortion is effectively a total ban,” Piñoro said, adding that there is often not enough time for people to find out they are pregnant, figure out how to pay for the procedure, arrange travel and accommodation logistics, and in in some cases child care.

“It’s not realistic and it’s by design,” she added.

A recent Turnaway study by demographer Diana Green Foster, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UC San Francisco, found that women who were denied access to abortion had worse economic and mental health outcomes than women who received care and that 95% of study participants who had an abortion said they made the right decision.

Florida’s new law contains some exceptions, including for saving a woman’s life. Abortions in pregnancies involving rape or incest will be allowed up to the 15th week of pregnancy, provided the woman has documentation such as a restraining order or a police report.

In the work Jamara Amani has done as executive director of the Southern Birth Justice Network and a member of the Black in Repro coalition, she has witnessed how these exemptions “don’t actually play out the way we think they will.”

She saw it with the 15-week abortion ban currently in place.

“There have been situations where people have had to go to other states or have had to carry pregnancies against their will because they didn’t have proper documentation,” said Amani, who is also a midwife.

In cases where a woman’s life is at risk, Amani worries that doctors wait too long to act on behalf of their pregnant patients because it’s not always clear how at-risk patients need to be for doctors to avoid litigation, criminal penalties or even losing their licenses.

“These additional restrictions placed on abortion care make a medically safe practice legally unsafe and endanger lives in the process,” Colon-Larauri said.

The bill also includes $25 million to expand the Florida Pregnancy Care Network Inc., a statewide system of nonprofit organizations that provide services through often subcontractors with crisis pregnancy centers known to provide inaccurate or misleading information about abortions to pregnant people.

“What we need is investment in legal health care,” Amani said, “and abortion funds to help people get those early abortions that will hopefully still be legal.”

What happens when the ban goes into effect?

While advocates wait for a Florida court to determine the fate of the new abortion ban, the Florida Access Network will continue to debunk the growing misinformation about abortion that often follows the passage of a new law and will increase fundraising efforts to ready for an increase in patients who may have to travel outside of Florida to get the procedure, Pinheiro said.

After Texas passed its six-week abortion law months ago, many independent abortion clinics closed or ended up dramatically increasing their prices. Pinheiro fears the same thing will happen in Florida.

“The abortion care that people are going to need is to make appointments and tangibly help them pay for travel,” Pinheiro said.

As a mother raising black children, Amani worries how these laws are reviving a painful legacy in which “our ancestors were forced to procreate and were unable to decide anything about their bodies.”

“It’s just crazy that in 2023 I’m giving this world back to my kids,” she said. “It is a matter of life and death and we want our lives.

“People who are in power should not be able to make decisions about death sentences for any group of people,” Amani added.

Londono agreed.

“People should be able to decide when and whether to start a family – in their own time, when they are ready and in their own circumstances,” she said.

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