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At a clinic in Hialeah, immigrants wrestle with Florida's new abortion ban

Many women seeking abortions this week at a small clinic in Miami-Dade County were surprised to learn about the state's new six-week ban.
A side by side of two people holding hands and a box of Mifepristone on a table
Many patients at A Hialeah Woman's Care Center are immigrants seeking abortions. Martina Tuaty for NBC News

HIALEAH, Fla. — They hailed from Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti. The women who visited a family-owned abortion clinic in a strip mall in Hialeah this week reflected the diverse population of immigrants who call Miami-Dade County home. 

Like women across the state, they were faced with a new reality Wednesday: a ban on abortion, with few exceptions, after six weeks. 

On Tuesday, the day before the ban went into effect, a sign at the entrance to A Hialeah Woman’s Care Center and another on a pink wall of the clinic’s waiting room warned patients of the change in law. The small clinic was bustling, with women pouring in all day, eager to be seen. Some patients were asked to return the following day because the state requires a 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

A fruit stand on a street corner
In Hialeah, a working-class city, roughly three-quarters of the population is foreign-born.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

Roughly three-quarters of the population of Hialeah, 11 miles northwest of downtown Miami, is foreign-born. Mom-and-pop shops line the commercial streets and fruit vendors dot many street corners. Some of the patients Tuesday were immigrants from Cuba, where abortion is legal and widely accessible. Others, like a 36-year-old nurse who immigrated from Haiti, were originally from countries where abortion is largely banned.

“I didn’t even know a law had been passed,” said the nurse, a mother of two who visited the clinic with her husband and declined to give her name to protect her medical privacy. “If I had not made it in time, I would have no choice but to have the baby.”

On Wednesday, that possibility loomed larger as a slow trickle of patients arrived at the clinic, not knowing if they had made it in time.

A patient seen from the back
One of the patients at A Hialeah Woman’s Care Center in Hialeah on Tuesday.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

Women across Florida are encountering the new ban, but abortion rights advocates say immigrants in the state and in this county — which has the nation’s highest share of foreign-born residents according to census data — will feel the impact more acutely. They may face language barriers, for instance, or have jobs without paid time off. And for those who lack legal documentation, the hurdles are magnified.“Undocumented immigrants are already walking a tightrope,” said Suma Setty, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Law and Social Policy, which has advocated for immigrants’ abortion rights.

“It’s basically narrowing the tightrope even further,” she said of Florida’s six-week ban. “And there’s no safety net.”

Detail of a sign explaining the new law that goes into effect on May 1st
Some patients receiving services at A Hialeah Woman's Care Center learned about the state's abortion ban when they arrived.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

E.H., a 28-year-old Cuban immigrant who lives in Jacksonville with her husband and two children, traveled about six hours to Hialeah because she knew the clinic. On Wednesday, she said she was unaware of the abortion ban until she spoke with NBC News. She explained why she was seeking an abortion. “It’s not fair to be obliged to bring children into the world if you cannot care for them properly,” she said.

Her ultrasound confirmed she was right around six weeks pregnant and she was confident she’d still qualify for the procedure. If she’d come in a week later, she’d have been forced to travel out of state.

Before Wednesday, the state banned most abortions after 15 weeks under a law enacted in 2022. Because the new cutoff comes before many women may realize they’re pregnant, those seeking abortion care may be faced with traveling hundreds of miles across state lines to clinics in North Carolina and Virginia.

Interior hallway of A Hialeah Woman’s Care Center
Florida's six-week cutoff could force residents to travel to clinics in North Carolina and Virginia for abortion care.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

In a process already fraught with confusion, abortion rights advocates say, travel may be especially daunting for immigrants. Even basic accommodations, like front desk staff who speak Spanish, Creole or French or signage in different languages, can be less accessible outside the region, they say.“I am a first-generation American, and I’ve seen a lot of my own family struggle with accessing health care and navigating all the barriers and that was prior to having medical care criminalized across the country,” said Lana’e Hernandez, a patient navigator with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

“When travel is involved with these patients, it just makes it 10 times more difficult for them.” 

For immigrants in Florida who lack legal documentation, most of whom come from Central and South America, fear of exposure adds another challenge, particularly in the wake of a sweeping immigration law enacted last year that requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients for their immigration status, among other provisions, making some people reluctant to seek even routine health care. 

The entrance of A Hialeah Woman’s Care Center
After the Dobbs decision, patients from the across the South traveled to Florida clinics for abortion access.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, executive director of the Florida Access Network, which helps patients pay for abortions and travel for their procedures, said some people might be subject to electronic monitoring because of their status and unable to leave the state.“People are afraid to travel,” she said. “They’re afraid to go to the hospital. So all we can do is encourage people to reach out for support to see if there’s a way to find access to health care for you.”

After Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, Florida was one of the few states in the South without a total or near-total abortion ban. Over 9,300 people traveled to Florida from other states to get abortion care last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

One of the employees at A Hialeah Woman’s Care Center on the phone
As Florida's six-week ban took effect this week, the volume of patients at A Hialeah Woman's Care Center has slowed to a trickle.Martina Tuaty for NBC News

Supporters of the six-week ban have touted the state’s plans to spend $25 million on Florida Pregnancy Care Network, a statewide alliance that includes crisis pregnancy centers, which aim to dissuade clients from having abortions. Although the Biden administration has attempted to restrict federal funding for such centers, many states rolling back abortion rights have incorporated them into their post-Roe plans.

Outside the Hialeah clinic Wednesday, a small group of women from the anti-abortion group Sidewalk Advocates for Life were handing out red bags that contained pamphlets with information about crisis pregnancy centers, as well as nail polish, cream and perfume.

“There are always resources,” said Kelly Tarazona, the group’s metro coordinator for Miami and Fort Lauderdale. “Abortion is not the only option.” 

She said the pregnancy centers could offer more than an abortion. They would help a woman find shelter, for instance, and a job if she needed one.

Pro-life demonstrators stand outside of a clinic with signs in Spanish
Members of the anti-abortion-rights group Sidewalk Advocates for Life greet women outside the clinic in Hialeah.Carmen Sesin / NBC News

As proponents of the ban celebrated Wednesday, abortion rights supporters are preparing to knock on doors in Hialeah in the coming weeks to spread awareness about the ban ahead of a referendum this fall that would amend the state Constitution to protect the right to an abortion.“We’re not giving up on Florida,” said Charo Valero, Florida state manager for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. “We are fighting back.”

A yellow flower emerges from a concrete sidewalk
Abortion-rights supporters plan to knock on doors in Hialeah this month to spread awareness about the new ban.Martina Tuaty for NBC News