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TO: Interested Parties

FROM: Olivia Cappello, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

CC: Ianthe Metzger, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

DATE: February 9, 2022

RE: Florida 15-week abortion ban threatens the health of millions

This week, the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee will hear — and most likely approve — a 15-week abortion ban, putting the bill on a fast track to becoming law by the end of February. It could be the first abortion ban enacted in 2022 — and it is a clear sign of how rapidly the abortion access landscape is shifting. If the U.S. Supreme Court dismantles Roe v. Wade by upholding a similar Mississippi ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health or overturns Roe altogether, by July, abortion access will be decimated for millions of people — not just in Florida, but across the Southeast and Midwest. 

Right now, given a lack of providers and often insurmountable, unneccesary abortion restrictions in surrounding states, Florida acts as a crucial access point for people seeking abortion in the Southeast. If this bill is passed, patients from Georgia and Alabama, who would otherwise travel to Florida, would face a driving distance increase of more than 1,000%. And, of course, this restriction would directly harm Floridians as well. Patients who need abortion after 15 weeks would be forced to travel out of state, where access is extremely limited. Because patients will likely face delays in getting care in border states, they’ll likely have to travel to North Carolina — the nearest state that allows abortion later in pregnancy (after 20 weeks LMP). These patients would have to travel an average of 583 miles each way to access an abortion. That would be a 4,443% increase in driving distance from the status quo. This would significantly increase the cost associated with abortion — not only because of the travel itself, but also because patients would need to take time off work and secure childcare. In turn, this could delay someone getting an abortion — further increasing the cost and the risks to their health. If the Supreme Court allows more abortion bans earlier in pregnancy like the ban they have allowed to stand in Texas, there will be a devastating ripple effect as access is eliminated throughout the region. 

As with all abortion bans, this is a transparent attempt by politicians who oppose abortion to control who can make decisions about their own bodies, lives, and futures. Floridians already contend with a number of barriers to abortion, including limited or nonexistent insurance coverage, especially for people insured through Medicaid; travel from rural areas; and a parental notification law that often delays care for young people who don’t have parental support. A 15-week ban will only push abortion further out of reach for these people and others, forcing some patients to travel greater distances — or else remain pregnant and face the risks that come with pregnancy and childbirth. When people are denied an abortion, it can have serious long-term consequences on their health and well-being — and that of their family, including their children. To put patients in this situation is unconscionable.

Even with its narrow exception for maternal health, the ban would leave patients with few options and put providers in an impossible position: offer the essential care they are trained to give their patients or risk criminal penalties for providing an abortion. Last week, nearly 540  clinicians submitted a letter to the Florida legislature opposing the abortion ban, citing the significant harm their patients will face if this ban is enacted. A number of these providers also testified to the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee, to share their experiences of caring for patients who sought an abortion. Among them was Planned Parenthood of South, West, and Central Florida Medical Director Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran, who shared the following story that illustrates the importance of abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy:  

Last week in Sarasota, I cared for Rosa, a patient who became pregnant despite being on birth control. Rosa didn't realize she was pregnant until symptoms started, which for her meant that she was 16 weeks when she sought abortion care. Rosa and her husband have three children. Her two sons have learning disabilities and behavioral concerns due to Fragile X syndrome. Rosa loves her children deeply. She and her husband know better than anyone how much time and attention her sons need because of their condition. Because of this deep understanding, she and her husband know they are not ready for more children. 

Making arrangements for her appointment was difficult for Rosa. She had to find childcare, and her husband and she had to take time off work. To force Rosa to travel out of state for care, when care in her hometown is already so hard for her to arrange, would just be cruel. There are so many patient stories I could share with you, but I’ll close by saying that your constituents are people just like Rosa. They deserve compassion and real help when they face difficult circumstances, not government interference.  

Rosa’s story is incredibly common, but legislators are turning their backs on millions of people just like her. The rapid movement of a 15-week abortion ban is an alarming reminder that even in states where reproductive rights have historically been protected, abortion access could quickly be dismantled. Just last session in Florida, legislators took no action on a proposed 20-week abortion ban because it was seen as too extreme. But now, they are pushing an abortion ban that will fundamentally change the lives of countless people — with no regard for how the ban will cause harm.  

The effects of this ban will inevitably fall hardest on Black and Latino Floridians. Florida has a long legacy of white supremacist policies, like redlining and state limitations on abortion coverage in public and private insurance plans. Additionally, Black women and Latinas are disproportionately more likely to have low incomes, live in rural areas, and lack access to health care. For Black Floridians who may now be forced to remain pregnant, this ban could be especially deadly. Nationally, Black women experience maternal morbidity and mortality at a rate three times higher than white women, largely as the result of systemic racism in the medical field and in society at large. This disparity continues to bear out in Florida, where Black women are twice as likely as white women to die during or shortly after pregnancy. The obstacles created by this abortion ban will be compounded for immigrants who often are ineligible for public health coverage and may be unable to travel for care due to their immigration status. 

In Florida, health disparities across race and socioeconomic status are exacerbated by a lack of public investment in health care, including the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage and a shortage of primary and OB-GYN providers, particularly in the central part of the state. The March of Dimes estimates that 17.4% of Floridians have inadequate prenatal care, which includes either too few visits or none at all before the fifth month of pregnancy. Difficulties in accessing prenatal care contribute to delays in diagnosing complications that could threaten a patient’s health or life and may lead them to need an abortion. And research shows that people who are denied abortion are more likely to delay prenatal care — a cycle that further raises their risk of complications.

Planned Parenthood’s Florida advocacy organizations, and coalition partners, continue to push back against this abortion ban — and to plan for what is to come if Floridians have their reproductive freedom stripped away. The polling is clear: there is no state where banning abortion is popular. And Florida’s lawmakers will be held accountable if they choose to move forward with this ban.  

If you plan to cover the Florida abortion fight or have additional questions about abortion rights at the state level, please reach out to [email protected] or [email protected].