New abortion law challenged, what are the options for pregnant women in NCFL

Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 7:35 PM EDT
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OCALA, Fla. (WCJB) - The U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade last Friday. It gives individual states the authority to decide how to regulate - or outlaw - abortion. Florida is one state with new abortion legislation ready to be implemented.

Under the current law, women have up to 24 weeks to receive an abortion, however, they are required to schedule and attend two appointments 24 hours apart, in addition to counseling and ultrasound.

The state’s new abortion law is set to go into effect on Friday, July 1 - that is unless a Leon County judge grants a temporary injunction in favor of Planned Parenthood which would block the new law from becoming a reality. A Palm Beach County synagogue is also suing the state in an attempt to stop the law from going into effect.

'Finn', who didn't want to be identified for fear of repercussion, holds up a sign with their...
'Finn', who didn't want to be identified for fear of repercussion, holds up a sign with their friend supporting a woman's right to choose on the Ocala downtown square.(WCJB)

The Florida Heartbeat Act is a 40-page bill from the state House of Representatives. If the Florida Heartbeat Act officially becomes law, pregnant women experiencing a medical emergency will be the only ones allowed to have an abortion after 15 weeks. Their doctor will need to determine how severe the situation is and make a record of it in the woman’s medical file.

After that 15-week mark, no person seeking an abortion including those who are “a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence, or human trafficking” can receive the procedure. Women in that category seeking an abortion before that cut-off time will also not be able to view images or hear an explanation from their doctor about their ultrasound.

Any physician or nurse that violates this law may be subject to civil action. On page 29 of the bill, a person other than an officer or state employee “may bring civil action against a person who: performs or induces an abortion in violation of this chapter or knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion…”

If convicted, county courts could order a defendant to pay back costs “in an amount of at least $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced.” This can be done up to six years after performing an abortion.

So for pregnant people in north-central Florida, who can’t travel to the nearest abortion clinic which for many women would be the Planned Parenthood or Bread and Roses in Gainesville, there are essentially two options: keep the baby with the help of resources like Catholic Charities and the Marion County Department of Health or surrender the baby under the Safe Haven law.

Ocala Fire Rescue has a Safe Haven baby box available to parents wanting to surrender their...
Ocala Fire Rescue has a Safe Haven baby box available to parents wanting to surrender their children. It keeps the infant cool and safe and alerts first responders right away.(WCJB)

Ocala Fire Rescue (OFR) has a Safe Haven baby box available to parents wanting to surrender their children. It keeps the infant cool and safe and alerts first responders right away.

Ashley Lopez is the Public Information Officer for OFR. She said since the city installed the baby box in Dec. 2020, there have been no babies surrendered.

“It is made to be anonymous,” she said. “There’s an alarm that’s triggered two ways…As soon as you open the door, it’s a silent alarm so it won’t scare off the person trying to surrender the child.”

The second alarm, Lopez said, goes off when the box detects weight, which is sent directly to first responders. Once the baby is recovered, they will first go to the hospital to receive medical care.

“The biggest benefit that people see, or point out about the box, is again, the fact that you don’t have that face-to-face interaction. The hope is that it makes it a little bit easier on the person that’s surrendering the child,” Lopez said.

Because it is a big decision. One thing prospective parents should keep in mind is, that once the baby is placed inside the Safe Haven baby box, the door locks and can not be re-opened from the outside.

Those needing some extra help, if they decide to keep their baby, can lean on agencies like Catholic Charities of Gainesville or the Marion County Department of Health.

“Actually, Catholic Charities in the United States started as an adoption agency back in New Orleans [at] the end of the 1800s,” Catholic Charities Regional Dir., John Barli explained. “Most of the women who present to us, are lower-income and usually on their own.”

The ‘Earn while you Learn’ was one of the programs Barli highlighted in our interview with him via Zoom. He explained it’s a parenting class that teaches women, who don’t have the family resources, how to parent.

“And as they go through these modules and these courses, they earn credits toward things like getting a ‘pack and play’, getting a crib, getting a car seat,” Barli said. “You’d be surprised at the fact that people don’t even think about [it]. You can’t leave a hospital with a baby without a car seat.”

Catholic Charities also offers adoption counseling, access to a food pantry, rental assistance, and programs offering diapers and formula.

The Healthy Start of North Central Florida program serves Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Marion, Putnam, Suwannee, and Union counties. It’s an education and support program, Marion County Lead Case Manager Patricia Smith explained, for prenatal and infant babies and of course mom.

Smith said they offer classes and counseling one-on-one with families, and if they have a “need in the third trimester, we can provide a pack and play, a car seat,” she said.

Most women can get the breast pump through their insurance, but if not, we can provide the breast pump as well, Smith explained. And it’s all free through the Healthy Start program.

“Say that it’s not their first pregnancy, they might a re-fresher, say it’s been a couple of years since they’ve had a child or a lot of people need the support. They don’t have a good support system,” Smith said.

A support system that more women will likely need in the near future.

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