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Both sides prepare as Florida's six-week abortion ban is set to take effect Wednesday

Pro-abortion rights activists gathered April 13 at a rally in Orlando, Fla., to back a referendum in November that could increase access to abortion. Nearby were activists opposed to abortion.
Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images
Pro-abortion rights activists gathered April 13 at a rally in Orlando, Fla., to back a referendum in November that could increase access to abortion. Nearby were activists opposed to abortion.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Every day when Dr. Chelsea Daniels goes into her job at Planned Parenthood in Miami it "feels like another punch to the gut."

Daniels provides abortion care in Florida, where a ban on most abortionsafter six-weeks of pregnancy takes effect Wednesday.

"I'm in the clinic and seeing patients and having to inform them about this ban and just watch the panic on their face," Daniels says. "It makes you realize how bans like this are so, so targeted and can change the trajectory of someone's life."

There are 14 states thatban nearly all abortions. A few others limit them to just the first six weeks of pregnancy. In Florida abortions are currently allowed up to 15 weeks until the law changes May 1.

The change has people on both sides of the issue scrambling.

Clinics in Florida work overtime as the stricter regulations loom

Florida requires people towait at least 24-hours between their first consultation and an abortion - and sometimes they don't even know they're pregnant for weeks. In these last days before the six-week ban, appointments have been filling up and staff have been working overtime.

"We recognize as healthcare providers and medical professionals that this is essential medical care," Daniels says. "So we're going to do everything we can to provide that care for as long as we're legally allowed to do so."

The six-week ban will allow exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking up until 15 weeks of pregnancy. It also includes exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities. And like the current 15-week ban, it will allow abortion in order to save the life of the pregnant person. But some doctors have already been hesitant to provide that care and Daniels worries the new law will make that even harder.

"Every day I'm seeing someone who is, I'm trying to do the calculus of, I think this pregnancy is putting my patient's life at risk, but they live in Florida, so what are my options?"

Daniels says there can be uncertainty about the threshold for when a pregnant woman's life is at risk and some doctors are nervous to perform abortions even when they're in danger. "Is the exception made for the health of the life of the mother, if the life of the mother is at 50% risk, or 51% risk, or 60% risk? It's impossible to actually calculate," Daniels says. "Then when you have a real patient with a real clinical scenario sitting in front of you, how are you supposed to know?"

President Joe Biden spoke at a pro-reproductive rights event in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday.
Paul Hennessy / Anadolu via Getty Images
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Anadolu via Getty Images
President Joe Biden spoke at a pro-reproductive rights event in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday.

Daniels worries that confusion will get worse once the six-week ban is in place — leaving patients with few options but to travel out of state.

"Our director of case management has kind of become a travel agent at this point," says Tampa Bay Abortion Fund Board Member McKenna Kelley.

The Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, and others like it, help with things like hotel rooms, plane tickets and the cost of an appointment at an out-of-state clinic. With the new ban looming, they're trying to raise money and expand their network of clinics.

"We're not going to be able to help everyone," Kelley says. "That goes for every fund and that's really unfortunate and that's something we want people to understand."

When choices are limited, one adoption agency worker says she hopes to help

Meanwhile, people on the other side of the issue are also preparing for the six-week ban, like at Bundle of Hope Adoption Family Services in North Florida.

Founder and CEO Glenda Richardson Carr says in her line of work she never knows "what to expect from day to day so we're always on our toes ready to go."

She considers herself "pro-life" and agrees with the six-week ban. But she says her goal is to support and empower birth mothers who are trying to figure out their options under the new law.

"I would ask them to give me a chance to show them an option of how parenting would look in their future and how adoption would look in their future and we work it out together," she says.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court'soverturned federal rights to abortion in Roe v. Wade, Richardson Carr says she's seen more birth mothers seeking help with adoption and she expects to see even more once the ban goes into place. That's although experts say many women who are prevented from terminating a pregnancy do not choose adoption and instead decide to parent themselves.

But for any birth mothers who do want to consider adoption, Richardson Carr says she's ready to help.

"I have no doubt that we could take every birth mom that would like to place a child for adoption and find them a family," Richardson Carr says. "Absolutely!"

Florida voters will get to decide on abortion this November

Florida's abortion battle will not end when the law takes effect Wednesday.

Andrew Shirvell, executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, says he'd like to see an end to all abortion in the state and sees the six-week ban as a step in that direction.

"I'm hoping and praying that at least half the abortion centers in Florida will effectively shut down," Shirvell says.

But Shirvell says his focus is the ballot question facing voters in November on whether to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. He calls it a "preeminent threat" against any future legislature's ability to pass a total ban on abortion.

Meanwhile, others like Daniels at Planned Parenthood in Miami, see the proposed amendment as a source of hope.

"I can't wait for November and hope everybody feels really motivated to go out and we'll show them who is boss in just a few months," Daniels says.

To pass, the amendment will need approval from 60 percent of the people who turn out at the polls. If the proposal passes, it's expected to take effect in January - increasing access to abortion.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Regan McCarthy
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