Sunshine State Blues: The Implications of Florida’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

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Culture & Conversation Law and Policy

Sunshine State Blues: The Implications of Florida’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Alexandra Melnick

A raft of new restrictions affecting Florida's abortion clinics translate into less care and more fear among the state's providers and prospective patients.

When a federal judge blocked two provisions in HB 1411 earlier this summer, it was a rare cause for celebration for Florida’s embattled reproductive health-care providers. The omnibus anti-choice law, which was signed in March by Gov. Rick Scott (R) and went into effect July 1, created an array of new obstacles for clinics around the state. And, unfortunately, providers and patients still must contend with a number of new provisions creating unnecessary barriers to access. 

The judicial decision in July blocked parts of HB 1411 mandating needless annual clinic inspections and banning federal funds from going toward clinics that provide abortions. However, the provisions still in place redefine the third trimester to begin at the 24th week of pregnancy and not after; prohibit the advertising, purchase, sale, or transfer of human embryos or fetal remains obtained from an abortion; require clinics that perform abortions to compile monthly reports that are delivered to the government; and mandate that all Florida clinics employ physicians with admitting privileges to local hospitals and have written patient transfer agreements with nearby facilities. In essence: Florida lawmakers are deciding they make the rules about Florida reproductive health care, not doctors.

This is already worrying Florida women who fear that such laws might result in clinic closures, based on the effects of similar laws in other states. Several of these prospective patients spoke with Rewire about their concerns.

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Anna V. Eskamani, the senior director of public policy and field operations for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, lamented in an interview that “ultimately this type of legislation creates a great deal of stigma” by positioning clinics as dangerous facilities in need of regulation.

And such stigma is cyclical: It can make it harder, for example, for clinics to gain admitting privileges from hospitals, especially those with religious affiliations or those in conservative rural areas. Eskamani fears that “thousands of Florida’s women and young people will have nowhere to go for health care” if HB 1411 ends up having all of its remaining provisions enforced.

According to Eskamani, “the majority of counties in Florida do not have an abortion clinic provider,” meaning the time necessary to potentially reach one can stretch into hours. That’s time that, realistically, many women don’t have if they lack access to a car or reliable transportation; if they are trying to hide their abortion from an abusive partner or family member; or if they work a job with long hours.

And laws like HB 1411 are disproportionately likely to affect smaller independent clinics. In Florida, that means most of the state’s roughly 65 abortion clinics are at a heightened risk of shuttering if they cannot meet all of HB 1411’s remaining requirements. Their patients will either have to wait for care at remaining facilities, or perhaps be unable to access care at all. A representative from All Women’s Clinic, located in Fort Lauderdale, noted that if its doctor “didn’t already have admitting privileges,” then “the law would be quite cumbersome.” Another employee from an independent clinic, who asked that Rewire not use their name, confirmed that HB 1411 has had an effect on their employer’s daily work.

The law carries particularly worrying implications for young women and those of color, who are more likely to be in poverty and therefore hit harder by the obstacles such policies create.

“B.” is an artist from Florida who asked Rewire to refer to her by her initial. B. doesn’t have health insurance and knows that if reproductive clinics are defunded she cannot get a gynecological exam. B. is worried.

Clinics that could close due to HB 1411’s restrictive provisions might leave B. moored in her Florida county without a realistic way to access reproductive care. As it is, she said, “The times I’ve needed health care, I’ve had to travel over an hour away and I didn’t have a car. It’s been very difficult.”

“I’ve been to the gynecologist literally twice ever in my life. It’s really scary that I might travel an hour and still be denied health care based on politicians’ religious beliefs,” she told Rewire.

Fabiana Ospina, meanwhile, sees the law as just one aspect of Florida’s continuously worsening public health situation. Ospina, a 21year-old volunteer at a Florida Planned Parenthood, feels that “being a woman in Florida who cares about her reproductive health is exhausting. You are either being challenged by state elected officials who want to make decisions for you or being cursed and yelled at by protesters when attempting to receive care.”

The passage of HB 1411, Ospina says, made her feel as if “Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t care about anyone who lives in Florida, and like the health and overall wellness of our residents is less important in his grand scheme of plans.” She points to the fact that “Florida currently leads the nation in newest HIV diagnoses, while the rest of the country’s count slowly declines. Despite these numbers, Scott continues to cut public funding towards health care. This leaves me feeling helpless and like he is absolutely careless when it comes to Floridians’ actual needs.” These laws, Ospina says, send messages to women like her that their reproductive health care isn’t important or worth funding. And meddling with her chances to access to reproductive health care makes her feel like her future is being compromised.

Becca Morrow, a Florida State University student who double majors in philosophy and environmental science, says that she does not know what would have happened to her when she was younger if she was unable to access health care at local clinics.

“I know from my own experiences, especially in high school when I depended on Planned Parenthood, accessing care was really difficult and expensive,” she said. Morrow noted that without women’s clinics she wouldn’t have been able to access birth control “until a year ago when my mom got married and I was able to use her husband’s health insurance.” The implied thought was sobering: Morrow wonders if she “might have been put more at risk for getting pregnant and having an unplanned pregnancy.”

For Morrow, clinics represent “so much more than just abortions and even so much more than women’s health. This is community health. It is a safe space for people to go to get their questions answered, for peace of mind, for people coming of age and people of age. It’s so necessary to the foundation of a healthy community. If people have access to peace of mind and health care, then that inevitably bleeds out to the community.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking the fate of Florida’s reproductive health care looks a little uncertain. And HB 1411 does more than just meddle with the future; it sets the script and tone for current events. Eskamani was emphatic in her belief that HB 1411 “continues to create a political toxic environment around issues that really should be basic for us …. There’s no rationale for this [law].”

“This shouldn’t be a political or partisan issue,” she concluded. “Women and people of all genders should be allowed to walk into a health center and access services and not feel judged or shamed or intimidated.”