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Pensacola Activists Grapple with Abortion Ban

By Dakota Parks for Inweekly

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last summer, Pensacola abortion rights activists began to mobilize. With trigger bans outlawing abortion in the surrounding Southern states and the permanent closing of American Family Planning, the only regional access point for abortion care along the Gulf Coast, a group of activists recognized a need for a centralized organization advocating for abortion rights. Here, the Pensacola Abortion Rights Taskforce (PART) was created.

“When Roe was overturned, I felt that I owed something to the next generation,” Robin Blyn said. “I’ve been a feminist and abortion rights activist since I was in college in Philadelphia, where abortion clinics were bombed, and I volunteered to escort women into clinics. I wasn’t surprised by the Dobbs decision, because we knew from the beginning that Roe was legally weak, but I felt remiss—like I had to do something.”

After failing to find a local organization to join that was dedicated solely to advancing abortion rights, Blyn and her co-organizer, Jasmine Brown, decided to start PART. As a grassroots organization, PART is a nonpartisan group dedicated to supporting safe and secure abortion access in Northwest Florida. The group’s mission was founded on three strategic pillars—local access, cultural change and political action.

“First, we needed to focus on the re-establishment of local abortion access by advocating for a new clinic and supporting those who need resources or transportation to Tallahassee, the closest city that provides abortion care,” Blyn explained. “Next, we need to change the culture so that people in Pensacola are comfortable discussing abortion, sharing their stories and coming out to vote in a statewide referendum to secure those rights. The third focus is political activism to change or prevent the law from becoming even more prohibitive.”

As PART grapples with current abortion legislation and accessibility, the group must also reckon with the past.

Pensacola is marked by a violent history surrounding abortion with multiple clinic bombings throughout the 1980s and the assassination of abortion providers Dr. David Gunn in 1993 and Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort James Barrett in 1994. This violence put Pensacola in the national spotlight and continues to influence the cultural attitude and ongoing fight over abortion.

In their effort to promote cultural change and destigmatize the discussion of abortion and reproductive health, PART has organized several protests and events, including a film screening and roundtable discussion on abortion and an art installation of interactive poster boards at rallies that read, “I love somebody who had an abortion.”

“Abortion shouldn’t be a taboo topic,” Brown said. “In order to get more people to advocate for safe abortion access, we have to change the culture. We want to create a safe space for people to share their stories with abortion and normalize it in our conversations. Abortion is a medical procedure that many people receive of all ages, religions, races, classes and political affiliations, and it should be respected just like any other medical procedure.”

Alongside their mission for cultural change, PART has also fundraised to assemble and distribute “repro kits” in Pensacola, which consist of condoms, pregnancy tests, Plan B, political action information and resources on where to get abortion pills or assistance to travel for abortion care.

“We want people to feel empowered by having community support and a tangible thing to show them that we care about their reproductive health and to remind them that sex is not something to be ashamed about. The repro kits are assembled in opaque bags that ensure they’re private and safe,” Brown explained.

The Fight Against Florida’s Abortion Ban As PART works to support local access and connect those who need help with resources across the state, SB 300, a near-total abortion ban, just passed the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis late in the evening on April 13.

Under the current law, abortion is legal until the 15th week with an exception for the life of the pregnant person but not for rape or incest. The law also includes a waiting-period restriction under which a pregnant person must visit their abortion provider for in-person counseling and wait 24 hours before returning to get an abortion.

The new abortion law will ban abortion after six weeks with an exception if the procedure would save the pregnant person’s life and in cases where pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, but only until 15 weeks. Additionally, the abortion ban will prevent doctors from dispensing medication abortion pills through telehealth, requiring in-person appointments. This stipulation for in-person care will restrict access even further as abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol are used in more than half of U.S. abortions, according to Guttmacher Institute.

“This six-week abortion ban will make abortion illegal before most people even know they’re pregnant,” Blyn explained. “Even if your period comes regularly every 28 days and you know immediately after four weeks that you are pregnant, this means you must make a decision almost immediately, book an appointment, find childcare, since most people who get abortions already have children, take time off work to travel to the nearest abortion provider—which is in Tallahassee—and have the funds to stay overnight to satisfy the requirement for two appointments with a 24-hour period between them. It makes it next to impossible to get a safe and legal abortion.”

Although SB 300 was fast tracked through the House and Senate by the Republican supermajority, the overwhelming majority of Florida residents, however, disagree with restricting abortion further. According to a poll from the Florida Atlantic University, 67% of Floridians want abortion legal in most or all cases—including more than half of Republicans— and just 12% want a complete ban on abortion.

“Abortion bans do not save lives,” Brown said. “It is historically proven that abortion bans create more subsidiary health problems, including domestic violence against those who become pregnant, increased suicide rates and the death of those from unsafe abortion methods. These abortion bans also disproportionately affect Black women and low-income people.”

PART has protested SB 300 by calling on members and citizens to reach out to legislators directly to share their opinion on the bill, as well as co-organizing the Occupy Tally protest. During the first two weeks of April, protestors from across the state convened outside the Florida State Capitol to protest the abortion ban, where several protestors were arrested, including Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried and Senate minority leader Lauren Book.

“People deserve enough time to make the right decision for themselves and their families, and six weeks simply is not enough time,” Blyn said. “It’s not right for Governor DeSantis or Senator Doug Broxson or anyone else to make that decision for them.”

Last year when DeSantis signed the 15-week abortion ban into law, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Florida, the Center for Reproductive Rights and other abortion rights groups sued to overturn the law. The case is currently before the Florida Supreme Court, and the six-week abortion ban will not go into effect until the case is decided.

Looking to the Future Despite the six-week abortion ban being signed into law, abortion rights activists are not giving up the fight. A coalition of activists across the state plan to seek a referendum to place the issue on the next ballot for voters to decide whether to uphold or repeal the law.

“The next logical step would be a statewide referendum,” Blyn said. “However, on the 2023 legislative agenda, there is also an attempt to raise the bar for referenda even higher than it already is. You currently need 60% of the electorate to pass a referendum in Florida. Now, Republicans want to raise it to around 67% of voters. Abortion rights are caught up in this attempt for the minority to rule over the majority.”

Locally, PART plans to continue helping connect people with resources for abortion medication and transport to clinics that provide abortion care. The group works closely with Florida Access Network, an organization that supports travel and abortion funds statewide as well as support for judicial bypass that gives young people under 18 permission to get an abortion without a parent’s involvement.

In their effort to secure local abortion access and respond to legislative action, PART has also joined forces with Floridians for Reproductive Freedom, a statewide coalition of abortion rights groups. Through this coalition, PART discovered that an abortion provider who operates clinics in the state of Florida is planning to open a new clinic in Northwest Florida. Although details on the potential clinic are still limited, the group emphasized that the clinic would have higher standards of care than the now-defunct American Family Planning clinic. Additionally, the ramifications from the six-week abortion ban may impact the decision to open the clinic.

“Pensacola is surrounded by a sea of states that have criminalized abortion, and the situation is dire,” Brown said. “Abortion is a procedure that has happened for centuries and will continue to happen under this abortion ban with deadly consequences. We will not stop fighting for affordable and legal healthcare and reproductive justice for all.”

To keep in touch with PART, join their mailing list by emailing, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook @PART850.


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