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Florida's 6-week abortion ban will disproportionately impact Latina and Black women, advocates say

The law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis will take effect only if Florida’s current 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge that is before the state Supreme Court.
Abortion rights activists at a rally in Delray Beach, Fla. on May 14, 2022
Advocates worry the Florida's new law would result in more people of color being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.AP

Thursday was a sad day for Floridians like Estefany Londoño, who have long advocated for abortion rights in their home state, as the possibility of a six-week abortion ban going into effect later this year started to sink in.

"It's heartbreaking," Londoño, 26, said. "People should be able to make those decisions when they’re ready and not because they're forced into certain situations."

Latinas and Black women working to keep abortions accessible in Florida worry the new law will result in more people of color being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term — which often results in 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 disproportionally higher risk, according to research published in 2020 in the peer-reviewed journal Contraception and Reproductive Medicine.

“The conditions of our state, people not being able to afford abortion care, these are going to keep people pregnant against their will, ultimately,” Florida Access Network co-executive director Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, who heads the only abortion fund led by queer people of color in the state, said.

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

Bienvenido US, a Hispanic conservative national group, celebrated the news on Friday calling it “A PRO LIFE VICTORY!” on Twitter. The Radiance Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit group founded by African American anti-abortion rights activist Ryan Bomberger, shared a post on Facebook celebrating the abortion ban saying, “We won’t stop this #humanrights fight until every life is 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, giving birth can present an additional set of dangers and concerns given its high rates of maternal mortality.

Some also face systemic barriers such as lack of heath insurance, health care 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, the Florida state policy advocate for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said.

"Forcing anyone in marginalized communities to continue their pregnancy, because they cannot terminate them, may actually contribute to an increase of maternal mortality rates in the state of Florida," Colón-Larrauri 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 abortion ban is effectively a total ban," Piñero said, adding that it's often not enough time for people to find out they are pregnant, figure out how to pay for the procedure, secure traveling and lodging logistics, and in some cases child care.

"It’s not realistic, and that’s by design," she added.

A recent Turnaway Study from demographer Diana Greene Foster, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco, found that women who had been denied abortion access experienced worse economic and mental health outcomes than women who had received care and that 95% of study participants who received abortions said they made the right decision.

The new Florida law contains some exceptions, including to save the woman’s life. Abortions for pregnancies involving rape or incest would be allowed until 15 weeks of pregnancy, provided a woman has documentation like a restraining order or police report.

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

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

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

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

"These further restrictions placed on abortion care make a medically safe practice legally dangerous, and endangers the lives in the process," Colón-Larrauri said.

The bill also includes $25 million to expand Florida Pregnancy Care Network Inc., a statewide system of nonprofit groups that provides services by often subcontracting with crisis pregnancy centers, which are known to provide inaccurate or misleading information about abortions to pregnant people.

"What we need is investments in legitimate health care," Amani said, "and abortion funds to help people get those early abortions, which will hopefully still be legal."

What happens when the ban takes effect?

As advocates wait for a Florida court to determine the fate of the new abortion ban, the Florida Access Network will continue debunking the rising abortion misinformation that often follows when a new law is passed and ramp up fundraising efforts to be ready for an increase in patients that may need to travel outside of Florida to get the procedure, Piñeiro said.

After Texas passed its six-week abortion law months ago, many independent abortion clinics shut down or ended up drastically increasing their prices. Piñeiro fears the same will happen in Florida.

"The abortion care people will need is getting appointments and tangibly helping them pay for travel," Piñeiro said.

As a mother raising Black children, Amani worries about how these laws are reviving a painful legacy in which "our ancestors were forced to breed and not being able to decide anything about their bodies."

"It’s just crazy that in 2023, I’m handing that world, again, to my children," she said. "It's a matter of life and death, and we want our lives.

"People that are in power should not be able to make death sentence decisions for any group of people," Amani added.

Londoño agreed.

“People should be able to decide when and if to start a family — on their own time, when they’re ready, and under their own circumstances,” she said.