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What It’s Like to Get an Abortion in Florida

Florida already makes minors to tell a parent if they're having an abortion. Now lawmakers want to require the parent to come to the clinic with them. Here's one 17-year-old's story.

by Paige Alexandria
Feb 6 2020, 1:52pm

Collage by Vice Staff | Images via Shutterstock

Republican lawmakers in Florida tried and failed to pass a bill in 2019 that would have banned abortion at six weeks. In fact, in the last six years, lawmakers in the state have made more than 50 attempts to limit abortion access, including a ban on a common second-trimester procedure and imposing a 24-hour waiting period for all abortions.

Another bill proposed recently would change the state’s parental involvement law for minors from requiring notification to mandating parental consent. Over half of U.S. states have parental involvement laws. Currently, a minor’s legal guardian or parent must be notified 48 hours before the abortion. But SB 404 would require a parent or guardian to accompany the young person to the clinic on the day of the abortion and provide a government-issued ID along with notarized, written consent. It isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to pass a law like this, and it’s already been proven that parental involvement laws delay care—which is exactly the intent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that adolescents are entitled to confidential abortion care, and that most teens still involve their parents in their decision. Other medical organizations agree that patients should decide. The teens who don’t involve their parent or guardian, however, choose not to because involving them would have severe consequences.

Here’s what Florida state law says about abortion:

Florida bans abortion at 22 weeks from fertilization except in cases of life or health endangerment. Clinics have to adhere to medically unnecessary standards (like keeping patient records for years, and having “written transfer agreements” and admitting privileges with local hospitals) in order to operate, which other medical providers don’t have to do. Around 73 percent of counties have no abortion clinic, a burden that affects nearly a quarter of people who can get pregnant.

Here’s an overview of other state restrictions:

  • People must receive biased, state-mandated counseling in person that’s designed by the state to influence their decision.
  • An ultrasound must be performed before the abortion. The provider has to offer the option to view the screen, but doesn’t have to describe the image. Since there’s no waiting period, the ultrasound and the abortion can happen on the same day.
  • Only a licensed physician can provide the abortion, despite other healthcare professionals being perfectly qualified.

How old do you have to be to get an abortion in Florida?

If you’re under 18, you need to notify a parent. The parent or legal guardian of a minor must be notified by the provider performing the abortion (or the physician referring for the abortion) 48 hours in advance of the procedure. If the young person has consent, their parent or legal guardian can waive this notice with written, notarized consent. (The exception to the notice is if the minor is married, legally emancipated, has a dependent child, or is experiencing sexual abuse.)

If a minor can’t involve their parent, then they have the right to petition for a judicial bypass, or permission from a judge to have the abortion, but it must be filed in the same county where the minor lives; even if there isn’t an abortion clinic nearby. And last year, research showed that over half the counties in Florida were “unprepared” on how to assist a minor with a judicial bypass. Some courts were unfamiliar with the term “judicial bypass” entirely, gave inaccurate information, or referred patients to legal aid or private attorneys instead of explaining the process and providing a free attorney from the court.

How much does it cost to get an abortion in Florida?

Cost depends on how far along the pregnancy is and whether insurance covers the procedure. Public funding like Medicaid and health insurance purchased from the state under the Affordable Care Act is banned from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. “Abortion riders” may be available to purchase for coverage, but ACA plans aren’t required to provide them. Some private health plans may provide coverage, and some abortion funds may work directly with clinics to offer financial assistance. You can ask on the phone before scheduling an appointment what the cost might look like.

Where can you get an abortion in Florida?

The National Abortion Federation has a list of abortion providers in Florida.

What is it like seeking an abortion in Florida?

This is one young person’s story.

Jane Doe, 17, needed an abortion last year as a high school senior in Florida. She was unable to involve her parents due to her family’s cultural beliefs regarding sex, so she relied on some of her other family members and friends for support through the process. (VICE is withholding Doe’s real name because she doesn’t want her parents to know she got an abortion.) Doe also contacted the Jane’s Due Process Text Hotline, which she says helped her learn how to get a judicial bypass in her own state.

She went to the courthouse and advocated for herself to the judge with the help of a free court-provided attorney. While she sometimes felt like giving up, she said the support she received kept her going. Doe successfully obtained a judicial bypass and had an abortion around a month after finding out she was pregnant. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

When did you know having an abortion was the right decision for you?

Doe: I think I knew from the beginning that I would have to go through with this decision, because I have a lot of goals. I’m a senior, and I'm involved in extracurricular activities at school. I also want to go to college and eventually medical school. And I couldn’t disappoint my family, because they’re very against the idea of me even having sex. It isn't something they agree with. And college was right around the corner, it would be impossible to go away to college and raise a child.

All that ran through my head was that my parents could never find out. All of the hard work and time I had invested in making my parents proud, and showing them that their struggle to make it in this country was all worth it, that would all be gone if they found out.

How did you find out you needed a judge's permission?

The first thing I did was look up home remedies for abortion, and I realized that was not going to work. I started to do research and I didn’t know at first that you couldn't do it without [telling] your parents. I found Jane’s Due Process through a Google search, and honestly, they helped me with everything. Emotional support, finding a courthouse, preparing for it. They told me about the whole judicial bypass process and I probably would’ve never been able to do it without them.

How long did it take you to have the abortion?

I found out I was pregnant during the first week of school. And I found out with a pregnancy test from the dollar store. But I didn't believe it, so I went to Walgreens and got a nicer one, and it still came out positive. I think that first week I didn't believe it, I just couldn’t. It took me two weeks to tell my brother, and he was a big support system for me. And once I found out that I’d need to go to court, it took me about a month to have the abortion from the time I knew I was pregnant. One of my friends went with me to the clinic. I did have the ultrasound a week sooner because you don’t need the bypass for that.

What was it like getting a judicial bypass?

When I found out I needed to go to the courthouse, I actually went that next week by myself. It was after school so I didn’t have to miss school at that time. But I had no idea where to go once inside, and there weren't a lot of people around for information. So I asked a cop and he took me to a desk where a woman was, and she gave me the correct room number. But she didn’t understand what I meant when I told her I was underage and needed a judicial bypass. She said, “uh, what?” and looked at me funny. So I ended up having to say I needed an abortion even though I was trying to avoid that.

I found out that I could make an appointment for a hearing, but that it would be better to come super early the next [business] day, which was Monday. If I did that, I could ask for the bypass and have the court hearing right away. So I got there on Monday at 8 a.m., and I skipped school that time to go. The hearing lasted about 20 minutes, but I didn’t leave until 12 p.m.

What questions did the judge ask you?

They gave me a free attorney and she was so nice. She prepared me for the questions the judge would ask. The judge ended up asking me if I had moral support and if I told anyone, and I told her my adult brother had been supporting me. I also told her I had been texting a hotline and what’s where I got all my information from. She also asked why I didn’t want to go through with the pregnancy, and if I knew the abortion could risk my fertility. That kind of scared me, but the person I was talking to at Jane’s Due Process already prepared me for that and told me that wasn’t true. After that, the judge told me right away that I’d be able to get a bypass.

Did you ever feel like giving up?

Yeah, when I found out I had to go to court, I kind of just kept telling myself that it wasn't real—I was giving up. The support I received from the hotline I texted is the reason I went through with everything. When I had my first ultrasound, and she told me I couldn't do the [medication abortion because I was already at 12 weeks], I really wanted to give up.

How much did the abortion cost?

At first it was going to be $550, but it was free because I had the judicial bypass. Even though I wasn’t completely worried about having to pay, because I knew that my brother would have my back, when I found out it was free it was super relieving because I felt like I had put my brother through enough stress already.

[Editor's note: A spokesperson for the National Abortion Federation (NAF) told VICE that the organization is appalled at the idea that teenagers should have to navigate the judicial system to get the care they need, but when they do, NAF is happy to cover the care they need at member clinics which include: independent clinics, Planned Parenthood, and some hospital providers.]

What was the counseling like?

She was really nice. I asked her questions and she talked to me about what to expect. She had to give me paperwork and tell me the risks of the abortion, and that there were other options. They said they had to tell me it could affect me getting pregnant again, but that the abortion was still safe. And since I already heard that from the judge and knew it wasn’t really a problem, it didn’t bother me. But I think if I didn’t know before that it was safe, then it would have scared me.

Did you have support after the abortion?

I told my peer counseling teacher, because she’s a psychiatrist and I felt comfortable with her. She could tell there was something wrong afterwards because being pregnant in general made me feel off. I felt out of it before I even had the abortion. One day I just broke down in class and they brought me to another counselor, and when I talked to him is when I started to get myself back. I think the reason I felt better was because I hadn't talked about it out loud, and that took a lot of weight off.

He also brought me to the sex ed counselor who comes in every week. I even have her number and we text sometimes. She shared her own story with teen pregnancy with me and it really inspired me.

What do you think about Florida wanting to change the parental involvement law to consent?

I think that it's wrong for the state to make a child or an underage teen let their parents know if that's not their wishes, because their parents can persuade them to do something they don't want to. It's their life and they shouldn't have to do that. The entire process from scheduling appointments, going to court for the judicial bypass, and researching everything was definitely hard to do without my mom, but in the end I learned so much—and not about pregnancy or abortions, but about myself. I learned that I am a strong, independent woman that would someday conquer the world. But most importantly, a woman that could make decisions for herself no matter how old I was.

The parental consent bill would hinder a young woman's ability to make these decisions for herself. It could wreck a girl’s relationship with some of the most significant and influential people in her life: her parents and her family. And that alone could take away all of the opportunities life has to offer.

Is there anything you’d like to tell other young people who need an abortion?

I think the most important thing was having some sort of support that wasn't my mom or my dad. I think it's really important to reach out to the adults in your life other than parentals, because for me, my brother really helped me with everything. And if I had known about my school being able to provide that type of support before, that would have changed a lot. But I had Jane’s Due Process. And I’m lucky to live in a county that has a lot of school support when it comes to this kind of thing.

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This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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What It’s Like to Get an Abortion
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