On March 3, the Florida Legislature voted to ban abortions after 15 weeks. Modeled after the Mississippi legislation that challenges Roe v. Wade, the bill—if signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed support for similar bills and is expected to approve it—will have devastating effects not only on those living in the state of Florida but for abortion access throughout the Southern United States.
But what I was reminded of most as I watched, stunned, as the votes come in last week was my mother. I grew up as a daughter of Iranian immigrants in a working-class neighborhood in Orlando, and I learned at a fairly young age about the concept of an abortion. It was my mom who taught me—though she didn’t call her decision an abortion.
One night, my twin sister, Ida, and my brother, Arya, and I were playing dress-up with the items in our mom’s jewelry box. As we picked through her earrings and bracelets, trying them on next to her, I remember her explaining to us that she was pregnant. And though she really wanted to have another Anna, Ida, or Arya, our family just could not afford it.
My mom was married and in a stable relationship. But she decided to end her pregnancy to ensure a better life for the kids she already had—a decision that a lot of people make when they decide to terminate.
That moment with my mom has always stuck with me, but it would be the only conversation I would ever have with her about abortion. Five years later, in 2004, she passed away after a long battle with cancer, when I was 13. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own—including navigating menstruation, hormones, dating, and reproductive health. At the time, my Florida high school adhered to abstinence-only education, which I very quickly learned was not legitimate education, but misinformation delivered by a religious leader with the goal of scaring young people away from engaging in sexual activity until marriage. Not only did I know this wasn’t realistic; I also saw how but dangerous it could be. Young people should be empowered to make healthy decisions—not shamed and misled on such important topics like consent and contraception.
So I did what a lot of millennials did in the 2000s: I Googled it. The Internet taught me—through it, I learned for myself what constitutes a comprehensive sexual health education. After clicking through several different resources, I found a local Planned Parenthood. This was where I went for birth control when I turned 18.
I saw firsthand how Planned Parenthood could impact lives, especially those of working class kids like me. My trajectory, both economically and personally, shifted dramatically with access to family planning. I volunteered at Planned Parenthood all through college as a health center escort, walking patients from their cars and into the health center through throngs of the sometimes belligerent protesters that gathered outside.
Then, in 2012, I was hired by my local Planned Parenthood. Six years later I would join the wave of first-time women candidates running for office, flipping a state legislative seat from red to blue to serve my hometown of Orlando in the Florida House.
Then came the first week of March, where I had a front-row seat to the results of anti-abortion extremism sweeping the nation. Florida’s bill will be the country’s first abortion ban of the year, but there will doubtlessly be imitators in the coming months. (Already, bills in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia have advanced similar legislation.) To add to the cruelty, throughout the legislative session anti-abortion lawmakers rejected every proposed amendment that would have allowed for patients in the most difficult circumstances—including survivors of rape, incest, and human trafficking, or people with severe maternal or fetal health diagnoses—to access abortion.
According to the bill’s sponsors, this ban was “generous” and “reasonable” compared to other proposals. To them, these exemptions were unwarranted.
For those who need clarity: There is no such thing as a reasonable abortion ban. House Bill 5 is a direct assault on the protections granted to us under Roe v. Wade, and those provided to us under Florida’s right to privacy enumerated in our state Constitution.
This bill is a blatant attempt to advance a political agenda over sound science and medicine, and in the process hurt most of all those who already face systemic barriers to care. This includes poor people, communities of color, folks with disabilities, sexual assault survivors, and immigrants. Should Governor DeSantis approve this law, patients who need an abortion after 15 weeks would be forced to travel out of state or remain pregnant, with North Carolina being the closest option.
Abortion services provided later than 15 weeks are often due to extenuating circumstances: serious health concerns that developed later in pregnancy, or cases in which a patient wasn’t able to collect the money and other support—time off from work or child care, for instance—any sooner. Minors who are unable to tell their parents must seek a judicial bypass in Florida, which could easily push them past the 15-week mark.
But this abortion ban doesn’t impact just Floridians but the entire American South. Today, given the lack of providers and often insurmountable, unnecessary abortion restrictions in surrounding states, Florida serves as a crucial access point for people seeking abortions in the Southeast. Last August, ReWire News reported that a Tallahassee Planned Parenthood health center saw, over a six-month period, a 30 percent increase in out-of-state patients. Most were from Georgia, but people from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and even a few from Texas traveled hundreds of miles for what used to be, until now, the most permissive abortion laws in the region. This is just another example of how abortion bans don’t stop abortions from happening—it just forces those impacted to find another way.
As a longtime advocate for reproductive freedom, I am not naive about the hostile political landscape we find ourselves in, or how devastating an upcoming US Supreme Court decision on the Mississippi ban may be for abortion access across the country.
And though I cannot predict the future, I know this: The majority of Floridians and Americans support access to safe and legal abortion. I also know that one in four American women have had an abortion in this country, and that includes people like my mom. Those who make this decision deserve support, love, and dignity. They should not be judged, shamed, or forced to hide that they have gone through a necessary medical procedure. They deserve full access to reproductive care.
Now is not the time to let up, or give up. Donating to your local abortion funds, giving to candidates who care about this issue and voting against those that don’t, volunteering on a political campaign, or being an escort for a nearby abortion provider has become more important than ever. No right has ever been given to us—we have always had to fight, organize, and mobilize. This time is no different.