Today, if a pregnant person in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, or eastern Texas needs an abortion for any reason, they’re probably gaming out how to get to Florida. In the six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the Sunshine State saw the largest increase in abortions in the U.S. But a new six-week abortion ban Republican Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed into law will likely end Florida’s status as a safe haven for abortion seekers in the Southeast, forcing them to travel even farther distances to obtain care or to self-manage their abortion at home.
Polling has shown that about 75 percent of Florida voters oppose the six-week ban, which is not in place yet. It is, in effect, a total abortion ban, since most people do not even know they’re pregnant at six weeks. Even if patients are able to determine they’re pregnant that early, Florida requires them to visit a doctor in person twice — with a 24-hour waiting period in between — in order to obtain an abortion. That logistical challenge has always been difficult to overcome, but it will likely be impossible for most patients under the new law’s truncated timeline. While the measure contains exceptions for rape and incest, survivors are only allowed to obtain abortion care until 15 weeks of pregnancy if they can provide evidence of their assault. The ban also grants an exception for certain medical conditions, but requires that two physicians attest that the abortion is needed to save the pregnant person’s life. These kinds of exceptions are rarely granted in practice.
“We have people that are scared,” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, a Democrat, tells the Cut. “We have people that don’t know whether to keep their appointments or not. There’s a lot of anger.” Earlier this month, Book and a colleague, state Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried, were among a dozen protesters who were arrested and charged with trespassing after refusing to leave a demonstration against the six-week ban. Book felt that it was important for them to join the protesters, who had been there most of the day, and “bear witness” to their stories. Despite the opposition, the measure quickly passed the Republican-controlled state legislature before DeSantis signed it into law.
Abortion remains legal in Florida for up to 15 weeks of pregnancy for the time being. Whether the six-week ban goes into effect hinges on how the conservative-controlled state Supreme Court rules later this year on a legal challenge to the current 15-week ban. Book says she has her eyes set on an abortion-rights ballot measure for the 2024 election; Florida allows for citizen-led initiatives, though the state Legislature has made the process much harder than it used to be. Advocates would need to collect and verify nearly 900,000 signatures by February 2024 in order to make the ballot. “We know people don’t like this,” Book says of the six-week ban. “We know this is not the will of Florida.”
What is the state of abortion access in Florida as it stands today?
Right now, the 15-week ban is still in place, so people are able to get their abortions up to 15 weeks. Now, that ban will likely stay in effect until June, when the Florida Supreme Court will likely uphold it. And then we will flip over to the six-week ban — I refuse to call it the Heartbeat Protection Act — which just passed and was signed in the darkest of night by the governor.
My job is to make sure that we let people know that they keep their appointments, call their providers, and then get information out there. We also know this is already creating devastating, harrowing, horrific health challenges and complications for women and girls in our state, and in my district in particular. And it’s only going to get worse.
Can you tell me more about those challenges and the impact outlawing this care has had on patients already?
There are actually two women in my district who shared stories of tragic pregnancy loss — their water broke; their pregnancies were no longer viable. These were two women who desperately, desperately wanted pregnancies. They did several rounds of IVF, only wanted to be mothers. They had these complications occur after 15 weeks. In both cases, the women were sent home to develop sepsis before they were able to receive the health care they needed and deserved. I spoke about this on the floor of the Florida Senate. People keep saying, “Well, that’s happening in Texas.” No, no, no. That’s happening here in Florida.
Under this current 15-week ban, there is no exemption for rape or incest. These horrific consequences exist because Republicans are allowing religion and political rhetoric to dictate policy. We know once the six-week ban goes into place that it’s only going to be worse. We don’t allow for the use of telehealth. We require two physicians to certify a fatal fetal abnormality to receive an abortion in that case. It is truly, truly extreme. Beyond that, you have $25 million going to crisis pregnancy centers, which provide misinformation to women and girls about how far along they are in their pregnancy or provide religious counseling to folks.
Although there is an exception for rape and incest survivors in the six-week ban, people are required to have documentation — a police report, court documents, evidence of a rape kit — in order to meet it. However, we know that about 80 percent of sexual-violence survivors do not report their assault. What do you think about these requirements?
I would suggest to you, as a survivor of sexual assault, that it borderlines on cruel and unusual punishment. You are forced to share the things that happened to avail yourself of that exemption, which we know survivors don’t do. You have to have a court order. You have to have a law-enforcement note or a rape exam to be able to avail yourself of that exemption.
The ironic nature of this is not lost on any of us: While they were passing this bill off the Senate floor, the governor was signing a permitless-carry law. So you don’t have to have documentation to have a deadly weapon, but a survivor of rape and incest has to have papers to get an abortion. What are we doing?
I think: Who is this going to affect the most? Those who can afford it the least. You’re going to have situations where people are going to be left with no alternative. Abortion has always existed; it’s whether or not it’s safe. What they have done is force women to take an unsafe option, or create a situation where there are medical refugees, or people go medically bankrupt because they can’t afford it. This isn’t cheap. Now you have to travel somewhere for days.
Polling has shown about 75 percent of Florida voters oppose the six-week ban. Why do you think the GOP passed a law, and Governor DeSantis signed a law, that doesn’t seem to reflect the views of their constituents?
Because the governor is running for president. There is no other way to put that. He’s destroying our state and hurting women as a means to an end. Someone told him it was necessary to speak to voters that he needs. And look, you’re not going to out-Trump Trump on abortion. He packed the court to overturn Roe. You’re not going to beat him, so stop killing women in the process.
I have colleagues on the other side of the aisle that voted for it but who don’t support this extreme measure that they know is bad policy, know that it’s going to kill women and girls. They did it because it was what they were told to do. They will be on the wrong side of history.
You mentioned earlier that the ban includes a $25 million allocation for crisis pregnancy centers. What do you think of those funds going to these anti-abortion organizations?
I think it’s despicable. It’s wrong. It’s insulting. We have testimonies from women across the state of Florida who went to a crisis pregnancy center at a very young age, that a crisis pregnancy center called their parents and threatened to call their school. They don’t follow HIPAA. They don’t have real doctors. What are we doing? It’s a shame.
When I wasn’t here in the Senate, you know what I was focusing on? My life. Getting my kids to school on time, making sure I could pay my rent or my mortgage. I was working to make sure I could put gas in my car. I wasn’t paying attention to this fishbowl. But I believe after the session, when Floridians realize what the extreme agenda has been in the Republican-dominated House, Senate, and executive branch, it’s going to come home to roost. They’ve overplayed their hand. You know the saying, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered”? I can’t wait for the slaughter.
It’s not only the anti-abortion laws, right? We’re seeing a very aggressive right-wing agenda ranging from anti-LGBTQ legislation and restrictions on diversity and inclusion measures, including a book ban, to expanding gun rights and ending jury unanimity for death penalty cases. Do you see a connection between the six-week ban and those measures?
It’s all connected. When Equality Florida has to put out a travel notice that it’s not safe to be here, what are we doing? The House just passed a measure where transgender individuals have to prove their gender before they go into a public bathroom. That is not what Floridians need. They need to stop putting partisan politics over people and do what the people sent them here to do, which was to make their lives better.
The six-week ban may not go into effect until this summer. So what can people do?
What people could do is learn about who’s representing them. If they’re not registered to vote, register to vote. If they voted, make sure they bring five or ten people with them to vote next time. I say this lovingly but critically: Elections have consequences. Once you lose your rights, they’re very hard to come by again.
Find an abortion clinic near you. Become a clinic escort. I cannot think of a more rewarding job than to help women and shield them from people who are outside screaming epithets and horrific things at them while they go get the care that they need. My sister is a great example. She drove from south Florida along with hundreds of other people; she came to testify for 30 seconds because they only give people 30 seconds to testify. She chose to have an abortion because her psychiatric medication was not compatible with pregnancy, so that she could stay alive for the child that she does have. And you know what? That’s her choice.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The Cut offers an online tool that allows you to search by Zip Code for professional providers, including clinics, hospitals, and independent OB/GYNs, as well as abortion funds, transportation options, and information for remote resources like receiving the abortion pill by mail. For legal guidance, contact Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812 or The Abortion Defense Network.