Florida Abortion Providers Brace for Public Health Crisis Ahead of 6-Week Ban

Calista Alma
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April 09, 2024

Kelly Flynn found herself at a crossroads at 19, seeking an abortion at a clinic in North Carolina. Little did she know, this pivotal moment would shape her career as she transitioned from being a patient to becoming an empathetic provider herself.

“The work chose me,” she reflects.

Now overseeing five clinics spanning North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida as president and CEO of A Woman’s Choice, Flynn has witnessed firsthand how her clinics serve as a crucial support system for individuals seeking abortion care in the South, where access is increasingly limited.

With the Florida Supreme Court’s recent ruling, a six-week abortion ban is set to take effect on May 1, replacing the existing 15-week restriction. For Flynn and her colleagues, this presents a looming crisis in public health. Many patients may not even realize they are pregnant by the six-week mark.

Reflecting on her own abortion experience over two decades ago, Flynn shares, “I could never have envisioned a reality where abortion might not be an option.” The impending restrictions are poised to further exacerbate barriers to essential medical care for those in need.

In anticipation of this restrictive landscape, providers at A Woman’s Choice and similar clinics in the region are mobilizing to address the imminent public health challenges and ensure that vital medical services reach those affected by the forthcoming regulations.

Kelly Flynn is adamant: A Woman’s Choice in Jacksonville will remain open. “Patients still need a sanctuary, a place to find guidance for their next steps,” she asserts.

For many patients, this entails physically escorting them to providers who can legally assist them. Flynn commends her staff’s commitment, noting, “They’re all stepping up, ready to accompany these patients, if necessary.”

While funds are allocated to assist patients with logistical challenges such as travel expenses, gas, and essentials like food and diapers, Flynn acknowledges the significant burden placed on patients who must travel over 1,000 miles to access care.

Their clinics, particularly in North Carolina, are witnessing an influx of patients from states like Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee where abortion access is increasingly restricted. However, Florida’s impending six-week ban poses a significant setback to regional access.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Florida accounted for approximately 1 in 12 abortions nationwide and 1 in 3 abortions in the South last year. The institute also reports that over 9,000 individuals traveled to Florida from other states for abortions in 2023, double the number from 2020.

Planned Parenthood, a major provider in the region, has been facilitating connections for Florida patients seeking care out of state, primarily to North Carolina, where abortions are permitted up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, followed by Virginia.

Alexandra Mandado, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida, stresses, “Florida currently serves 84,000 patients annually for abortion care. The reality is that the national abortion care network cannot absorb this influx.”

She adds, “The entire South will become an abortion care desert within a month.”

Meanwhile, Florida providers are maximizing efforts to serve as many patients as possible before the six-week ban takes effect. Planned Parenthood is expanding ultrasound appointments to confirm pregnancies and aid in dating pregnancies. They’re also educating patients on the evolving reproductive care landscape.

“In anticipation, we’ve recruited more physicians and brought in additional medical staff from out of state,” Mandado reveals.

Flynn’s clinics are adjusting schedules and accommodating demand through double booking. Though longer wait times are inevitable, patients remain resolute. “Some are prepared to wait up to 10 hours, as long as they leave without a pregnancy,” Flynn shares.

With severe restrictions tightening around abortion care, providers express grave concern that patients may resort to dangerous alternatives.

“When a woman is determined not to be pregnant, she simply isn’t,” asserts Flynn.

“We worry that patients may attempt self-managed abortions, leading to a surge in injuries and miscarriages that are improperly handled,” she warns. “We anticipate emergency rooms becoming inundated with patients attempting to manage their abortions independently out of desperation.”

Patients have already endured the harrowing ordeal of unwanted pregnancies, suffering life-altering and potentially life-threatening consequences, reveals Mandado.

“We’re witnessing individuals facing compromised fertility due to botched abortions and the inability to access proper care. Some suffer from hemorrhaging or infections that jeopardize their reproductive health,” explains Dr. Cherise Felix, a practicing physician with Planned Parenthood in Florida.

Felix recounts heart-wrenching encounters of turning away patients who have exceeded the state’s 15-week abortion limit.

“Their confusion is palpable. Often, tears are shed – sometimes by both parties,” she shares.

In a recent development, the Florida Supreme Court greenlit the language of a proposed constitutional amendment, slated for the November ballot, aimed at safeguarding abortion rights in the state. The proposed amendment seeks to uphold the right to an abortion in Florida before fetal viability – typically around 24 weeks into pregnancy – or when necessary to protect the patient’s health. If passed by a minimum of 60% of voters, the amendment could nullify both the 15-week and six-week abortion bans.

Despite the potential passage of the ballot initiative, experts caution that the fate of abortion rights in Florida remains uncertain. Justice Jamie R. Grosshans, in her dissent, criticized the amendment’s wording as misleading, suggesting that it could lead to further legal challenges rather than offering a definitive resolution.

Constitutional law experts speculate that the amendment may invite future court battles, particularly concerning whether unborn children are entitled to a right to life under Florida’s constitution.

Nevertheless, proponents of abortion rights rally behind the ballot measure, hopeful that it will reinstate access to abortion care for those in need. University of Miami law professor Caroline Mala Corbin emphasizes the significance of the potential outcome, though its ultimate impact remains to be seen.

Kelly Flynn of A Woman’s Choice expresses support for the measure, vowing to advocate for its passage and mobilize voter registration efforts. She remains optimistic about its chances, asserting that it’s unjust for politicians to dictate individuals’ reproductive choices and family planning decisions.

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