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Dwindling rights of women in Florida

By Cindy Banyai, Ph.D.

We as Americans, love and enjoy our freedom. Many have fought for these freedoms in the battlefields, the streets, and the halls of Congress. Unfortunately, some of the freedoms that have been won to those that have been excluded, such as people who had been enslaved and women, are being eroded by extremist political actors. On this episode of Perspective, we will focus on the Abortion Ban that was passed by the Florida legislature this year and how it rolls back the rights and freedom of women in our community.

What’s going on?

Florida passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. HB5/SB 146 passed the Florida House and Senate in late February in early March 2022. The law went into effect on July 1, 2022 with the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis. This law is being legally challenged.

This year, state lawmakers further restricted abortions at six weeks of pregnancy — although they did allow for exceptions if there is proof of a crime. DeSantis signed Florida’s six-week ban, co-sponsored by Florida state legislators Jenna Persons-Mulicka, into law behind closed doors late at night. This is likely due to the widespread disapproval of such an abortion ban.

The gerrymandered and overwhelming GOP majorities, despite Florida’s population being nearly evenly split between Republican and Democrats, passed both of Florida’s recent abortion laws without issue. Women’s rights groups raised alarm, but that did not change the vote.

Florida’s abortion laws also singles out women as targets of reporting and interventions in a dangerous way. They created an intervention targeting women and smoking and a panel specifically to review and track abortions and other pregnancy issues. These set a precedent for scrutinizing women in ways that could lead to further privacy infringements and legal action.

How did we get here?

Conservative and evangelical activists have been pushing to end abortion for decades. They have had a long term strategy to take over state and local governments with far right politicians to achieve their goal. Those far right groups such as the Family Research Council, the National Right to Life Committee, and the American Family Association fund politicians and craft messaging to achieve their goal of ending abortion. They pushed legislation in states with a conservative majority in their legislature, such as Florida, in effort to create legal challenges to overturn Roe v Wade. Roe v Wade is the SCOTUS case that decided 7-2 in 1973 that people seeking abortion have the right to medical privacy.

Anti-abortion politicians try to push abortion out of reach. Many legal barriers to abortion have been put in place by the Florida legislature to make it difficult to access this medical care such as mandating In-person patient visits with ultrasound, giving those seeking abortion care state-printed, biased information pamphlets, restricting the provision of abortion to only physicians, requiring people under 18 to have notarized permission of a parent for abortion care, onerous regulations and reporting requirements causing general medical practices to not offer abortion – meaning those seeking abortion care have to seek out providers and facilities. 73% of Florida counties currently have no abortion provider.

What happens next?

If Florida’s restrictive abortion laws go into full effect, pregnant people will have to limited options to seek medical care. Providers will be under additional scrutiny and may stop services. People seeking abortion care may have to leave the state. A new generation of children may be born to mothers unprepared to care for them, potentially perpetuating intergenerational poverty and trauma. This will also hurt the social and economic advancement opportunities of the mothers. In Southwest Florida, single mothers have the highest rate of poverty, and curtailing access to abortion will only exacerbate problems like this. Young people and people of color face additional barriers to abortion care, such as high rates of poverty, stress, and a working-class schedule. These are the pregnant people that will be most affected by this Abortion ban.

What do we need to know?

Abortion is health care. Many people are opposed to abortion because they don’t want to hurt children and that is perfectly reasonable. It’s ok to have personal and religious beliefs and follow them. It’s not ok to impose those personal and religious beliefs on others. That is what freedom and separation of church and state means. Every person and every pregnancy is different. We need to acknowledge this and respect people’s privacy and decisions. One-size-fits-all laws have no place in health care delivery or the state’s public health laws.

Abortion is safe and common. We should be able to get care when we need it without shame or outside influences. Abortion bans do not stop abortions. People who become pregnant will continue to seek abortions if they are in a desperate situation. Abortion bans only hurt women because it forces them to seek this medical care in dangerous ways.

There’s not much we can do from here. We can support those seeking abortions to get the best care possible. We can lift our voices in support of women and freedom to continue to pressure the legislature, politicians, and SCOTUS to protect our right to privacy. We can run for office to try to balance the legislature. We can vote for pro-choice candidates.

You have a right to privacy. You have a right to determine when and where to start a family. The government and politicians should not be making these decisions for us. Your healthcare decisions should be between you and your doctor, no matter what politicians think. If you think abortion is wrong, you don’t have to have one. Otherwise mind your business.

Even prominent Catholics, such as President Joe Biden, support abortion care because they believe in religious freedom. Freedom means you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your private medical decisions. Let’s leave decisions on abortion to women and their healthcare providers.

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