The Impacts of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ Heartbeat Protection Act on Women and Children
On April 13, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion policies, referred to as the Heartbeat Protection Act, into law. The bill comes as part of a recent surge of restrictive abortion policies that are sweeping into state laws across the country. This legislation bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and requires “proof” of rape or incest in order to obtain abortion past that point. This proof can include a restraining order, police report, or medical records to support a victim’s allegation, and requiring such proof to obtain an abortion restricts Floridian women’s abilities to exercise their right to freedom. In essence, the newly minted legislation serves as a ban on abortion and will impact millions of women’s and children’s lives as it denies the basic human right to autonomy. The pro-life movement in Florida counts the bill as an incredible win after decades of Roe v. Wade making similar bans an impossibility. Although the bill protects the right to life for unborn fetuses, it will certainly have an impact upon those who are capable of becoming pregnant and upon the children it will bring into the world. In addition to directly impacting the populace, similar bans have been heavily criticized for negatively impacting factors important to the prosperity and success of a state or a nation.
According to the Center for American Progress, the decision of Roe v. Wade (1973), allowed more women to thrive economically, strengthening the economies of the communities they lived in. After Roe was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2022, the progress towards gender equality in education and the workplace has slowed. In states with more restrictive abortion policies, maternal mortality rates are higher, especially for women of color, as are mortality rates for women of reproductive age. These states also report higher rates of racial inequality in health care and have fewer maternity care providers. The impacts of these statistics are compounded by the fact that the ban requiring proof of rape or incest forces women to interact extensively with policing authorities, with which Black and minority communities already maintain a level of distrust in the light of historically racist policing strategies. These findings foreshadow the economic and social impacts of Governor DeSantis’ abortion ban. The negative effects of the ban are aggravated by employment legislation in Florida, which includes the Florida Family and Medical Leave Act. Under the FMLA, new mothers must prove they are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave, which many may not meet the requirements for (the Act only applies if the employee has been working for a company of fifty-plus employees for over a year, in addition to meeting other stipulations). Current Florida legislation protects the Christian belief that all life is sacred even in vitro, but when approached from the perspective of women who aim to achieve financial independence and security, carries a certain sense of doom.
While Christian activist groups laud the new law, it is not just the potential forced mothers who claim issue with the bill. Jewish religious groups filed suit back in June of 2022, alleging that the fifteen week abortion ban that was in place prior to the currently active six week ban violates Jewish teachings that protect a woman’s right to access an abortion. The addition of Jewish groups to the voices of opposition outlines how broad the impact can be for laws that legislate over half of the population. Another concerned party regarding this issue is the children born as a result of denied abortions. The U.S. foster care and adoption system leaves much to be desired, with over 391,000 children across the country currently growing up in what is commonly referred to as a broken system. Up to 80% of those contained within those 391,000 suffer from mental health issues, a staggering difference from the 18% to 22% of those in the general population who suffer from mental health issues. These children move from home to home, often being abused or even murdered by caretakers, and between homes reside in facilities that do not have the resources to nurture thriving members of society. With these facts in mind, abortion bans like the Florida Heartbeat Protection Act may result in more children experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and poverty, especially if they are being born into minority communities. While a couple went viral last June for holding up a sign bearing the statement, “We will adopt your baby” at a pro-life rally, the reality of adoption is that it is incredibly costly, is traumatic for the birth-mother, and benefits white children unequally as demand is lower for babies of color. This leaves minority groups to experience the trauma of foster care at higher rates.
In the case that saw Roe overturned, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022), the state of Mississippi claimed that there is “simply no causal link between the availability of abortion and the capacity of women to act in society,” asserting that a woman’s right to choose has no profound impact on her and her families development economically. However, having children is known to have a marked change upon the parents’ lives due to the inevitable responsibilities that come with becoming a caretaker. A longitudinal study conducted by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health found that women who were turned away when requesting an abortion experienced significant economic downturns following the denial of access to reproductive choice. In fact, the study found that women who were turned away and later gave birth experienced “an increase in household poverty lasting at least four years relative to those who received an abortion”, experienced higher levels of debt and lower credit scores, and had more negative public financial records, which include incidences of eviction and bankruptcy. The study also found that the children of the women who were denied abortions were more likely to live in poverty than were the children of women who were allowed abortion access and were born of a subsequent, desired, pregnancy. Lastly, the study found that giving birth was associated with greater health problems than having an abortion, as women who were denied abortions reported more health issues post-birth than those who received abortions. The study also followed two women who tragically died delivering the children they were not permitted to abort.
These findings are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the personal and economic impacts of restrictive abortion policies. While the Florida Heartbeat Act supports an unborn fetus’ right to life, it fails to protect its mother’s right to autonomy, choice, or freedom. Similar bans are associated with more negative outcomes for both the mothers and for the children, and the costs of threatening the job stability of an entire gender and the futures of thousands of children may be insurmountable for the state of Florida. The ban also raises the question: how do states go about protecting the beliefs of one religion, Christianity, without ostracizing the beliefs of another, Judaism? Such a question may eventually make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the result of such a case potentially serving as one of the clearest indicators of how partisan the Court has become. The economic and social impact of this bill will be realized over the next few decades, and it remains to be discovered whether this bill being a win for the Christian pro-life movement outweighs the economic and social losses faced by the communities it impacts.