Tue. May 28th, 2024

Jasper never considered he might be pregnant. Despite the nausea, the stomach pain, the fatigue, the possibility never crossed his mind. He was about six months into testosterone therapy, a form of gender-affirming care.

It had taken ages to get his father and stepmother on board—though 18 years old at the time, Jasper lived with and relied on them for support. But looking in the rearview mirror, he knew treatment was one of the best things he’d ever done for himself. Feeling the peach fuzz grow on his face, hearing his voice deepen, noticing as his jawline shifted and his eyebrows darkened—it was the first time in his life that Jasper felt truly at home in his body. The treatment made him look and feel like himself; it also meant he barely menstruated. That wasn’t a big deal, though. Ever since puberty, he had never had regular periods. Their absence didn’t even register.

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In June 2022, Jasper caught COVID-19 while traveling with his boyfriend’s family, and between the viral symptoms and newfound back soreness, it became, through no fault of his hosts, one of the most miserable vacations he’d ever taken. When he returned to Orlando, Jasper kept waiting for the pain to get better. When it persisted a month later, he visited a doctor who still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Nobody thought to check for pregnancy.

Then the nausea began, followed by mysterious new stomach pains. After enduring an additional month of discomfort, he scheduled another doctor’s visit. Maybe, they told him, he had an autoimmune condition; perhaps it was rheumatoid arthritis, which ran in his family. But the stomach pains posed a mystery. They referred him for an ultrasound. In August, Jasper scheduled the appointment, choosing a Saturday so he wouldn’t need to take time off work.

He was lying on the table when the clinician broke the news. “Well,” she said. “Of course, you know that you’re pregnant right?”

Jasper sat up. “You’re joking.”

The telltale symptoms he’d struggled to place were actually something so simple. Still, Jasper couldn’t believe it. 

She showed him the screen. “I’m surprised nobody told you,” she said, “because you’re so far along.”

From the clinician’s reading of the ultrasound, it looked like Jasper was about 12 weeks pregnant, already through his first trimester. He’d heard about Roe v. Wade being recently overturned but hadn’t yet learned what that meant in his home state—that as of July 2022, while abortion in Florida would still be legal, the state would begin enforcing a law that prohibited the procedure for anyone past 15 weeks of pregnancy. When the nurse told him, it sank in how little time he had.

If Jasper wanted an abortion, he had three weeks to make up his mind, raise the money, and schedule not one but two appointments. That spring, the state courts had upheld a law mandating that anyone seeking an abortion needed to make two visits to the clinic, the first for counseling and the second—at least 24 hours later—for the procedure itself. He had no idea how long he might have to wait to be seen by a doctor. All he knew was he had to move quickly.

Jasper left the clinic to call his boyfriend from the car. The phone kept ringing, finally going to voicemail. Jasper called back. It went to voicemail yet again. 

Sobbing, he dialed Planned Parenthood. It took him five or six tries before someone answered. He told the woman on the phone he had just found out he was 12 weeks pregnant. Jasper had always figured he’d want an abortion if he were to get pregnant, but now, facing the decision, he was no longer sure what to do. He needed to know his options. How quickly could they see him?

Though decades in the making, Roe’s undoing in June 2022 caught many abortion opponents by surprise—particularly elected Republican officials who had long campaigned on outlawing the procedure as early as possible. Abortion bans were and remain unpopular with the vast majority of American voters, including in Florida. But restrictions have historically been a way to maintain favor with influential hardline groups. Conservative-led statehouses could pass laws restricting abortion, assuming they would be blocked under Roe and lawmakers would never face any actual consequences.

After Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, passing an abortion ban meant dealing with the human toll. In Florida, a once-purple state tilting red, that tension was even more potent. In the months before Roe’s overturn, the GOP-run state legislature, urged on by ultra-conservative governor Ron DeSantis, had passed a 15-week abortion ban. The law couldn’t take effect as long as Roe was intact—it posed a clear violation of the federal abortion protection—but functioned instead as a contingency plan, an indication of how Florida would restrict access if and when Roe fell.

Poll after poll showed most Floridians opposed this policy. A year before, when Republican state legislators had attempted to ban abortions for anyone past 20 weeks, the bill could not even get out of committee. The right to an abortion was supposed to be sacrosanct in Florida—in 1989, the state’s Supreme Court found that it was protected in their constitution. Until the 15-week ban, which went into effect in July 2022 after the Dobbs decision left abortion restriction to the states, abortions for people up to 24 weeks of pregnancy had been allowed. 

Supporters attempted to frame their law as a middle-ground, noting most abortions do occur within the first trimester. And in Florida, only 6% of all abortions done in 2021 happened after 12 weeks of pregnancy. But that argument failed to consider who would be affected by a 15-week ban, a law criticized by medical providers, who noted there is no health-based reason to deny someone an abortion at that point. Historically, the people who sought abortions later in pregnancy have been those who could not afford to get to a clinic earlier—those for whom pulling together money, time off work, and childcare to make an appointment represented tremendous obstacles. There were people who did not learn until later about the risks to their pregnancies because doctors couldn’t detect them yet, or those, like Jasper, who did not realize they were pregnant, for whom a 15-week deadline meant almost no room to decide what to do. 

Still, when Roe fell, Florida offered access for people living in Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama, all of which had more restrictive abortion laws. In the ensuing year, it was one of only four states in the Southeast that allowed abortion at all. And as the third-largest state in the country by population, Florida had the most options, with more than 60 clinics. 

In 2022 alone, Florida recorded a 38% increase in abortions from the previous year. Nine months after Dobbs, 12,460 more abortions than usual were recorded, an average increase of almost 1,400 more abortions per month. No state in the country experienced a larger jump. 

With abortions after 15 weeks outlawed, appointments quadrupled across the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliates. Most came from out of state, from across the South. Florida became arguably the nation’s most important abortion sanctuary. 

Jasper had finally gotten through to someone who could schedule an abortion consultation. His window to decide was rapidly closing, but there weren’t any openings for weeks. Things had been hectic all summer, with patients from all over the South flocking to the Orlando clinic. By the time they could find an opening for Jasper’s first appointment—the consultation, not the procedure itself—it would be after the 15-week deadline.

Jasper didn’t want to tell his family. He’d begun rebuilding his relationship with them, but things felt fragile. And his stepmother, raised Catholic, deeply opposed abortion. If Jasper had to leave Florida, his boyfriend had family in Las Vegas, where abortion was legal up to 24 weeks. They’d have a place to stay, and an excuse for why they were leaving. Running the numbers mentally, he could probably find round-trip tickets for $200. 

“Wait,” the woman on the phone broke through his thoughts. “We just had a cancellation.”

It was in four days. Jasper would get an ultrasound, go through his state-mandated counseling, and decide what he wanted to do about his pregnancy. Without thinking, he took it. Still crying, Jasper tried calling his boyfriend again. This time, he was able to deliver the news.

The thought flickered through his mind: if he had been born cis, he never would’ve had to worry about pregnancy or abortion. This was yet another way his body didn’t fully feel like his own, and another way it felt like Florida—which had also recently passed a law outlawing gender-affirming care for people younger than 18—was attempting to deny him basic physical autonomy. In four days, he knew, he’d be confronted with the decision about whether he wanted to end his pregnancy or if he could envision life as a parent. He hardly felt prepared.

Right after Dobbs, 13 states were early adopters in banning abortion almost entirely. Anti-abortion advocates now had time to focus on the next phase: states that didn’t outlaw abortion right away, but that incrementally limited access such that, in a few years, the procedure would become largely unavailable.

Polling from the Public Research Religion Institute after Roe fell showed almost two-thirds of Floridians believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Another survey, conducted in the last week of February 2023, found 75% of registered voters did not support a law banning abortion after six weeks, which is before many women know they are pregnant. The distaste was bipartisan: a majority of Republicans in the poll said they wouldn’t back such a ban.

Yet what constituents wanted didn’t matter. Months after Dobbs and the institution of the 15-week ban, Florida Republicans won a supermajority in the state’s legislature, and DeSantis cruised to reelection. Pressure from the state’s anti-abortion lobby was immediate, along with mounting attention from national anti-abortion groups, who identified Florida as a priority state. Given its large population and geographic significance, they assessed correctly that Florida-specific restrictions would have outsize importance. If the GOP wanted to hold onto their support, they’d have to push for more than just a 15-week cutoff. 

On March 7, 2023, Florida’s Republican lawmakers introduced their six-week bill. Unlike legislation in most other GOP-led states, it did introduce exceptions for people who had become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Still, exceptions applied only up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, and only if people could produce documents such as police reports, restraining orders, or court orders certifying that they had in fact become pregnant as a result of rape or incest, a stipulation that made the carveout functionally unworkable, given how few survivors ever report rape or incest and the tight turnaround for people navigating trauma. 

The six-week ban lingered in court for almost a year, finally taking effect May 1, 2024—after the court’s conservative majority eviscerated the state’s abortion-rights protection. Suddenly, the closest option for someone in Miami was Virginia or Illinois, a distance unfathomable for most medical care.  

This latest prohibition has put an end to the notion that a Republican-led state could “compromise” on abortion. The decision has opened the door for the state to go further, potentially outlawing abortion completely within years. 

Even before the six-week ban, when the cutoff for the procedure was at 15, Jasper had little time to decide what to do. At his consultation, Jasper learned that his pregnancy was not 12 weeks as he had been told but closer to 14. 

The clinic was still quiet when Jasper arrived for his abortion, but it filled with patients over the course of the morning. Some looked like they were there for birth control, others he deduced were in a similar situation to him. One girl clutched pictures from her ultrasound. Seeing the fear and confusion on her face was like looking in a mirror.

The abortion was simple: he received a mild sedative, medication to open up his cervix, and a straightforward surgery to remove the fetus. It was a safe, easy procedure—and immensely painful. And then it was over. 

Jasper’s boyfriend had picked up pho from a restaurant they both loved, and the two watched TV in bed all evening. Over seven days, Jasper had learned he was pregnant, processed the news, scheduled an abortion, and after two visits to a clinic, terminated his pregnancy. He didn’t regret it. But the feeling stayed with him—a nagging voice asking, what if? What if he’d been able to give birth and put up a child for adoption? Could he have become a parent, young as he was? He’d never had the chance to consider.

He wished he’d had more time. But that was a luxury nobody could afford.

Adapted from Undue Burden: Life and Death Decisions in Post-Roe America by Shefali Luthra. Copyright © 2024 by Shefali Luthra, out in hardcover on May 21 from Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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