Health

Miami Abortion Doulas: "Emergency Contraception's Flying Off the Shelves"

Tifanny Burks (left) and Jamarah Amani of Southern Birth Justice Network
Tifanny Burks (left) and Jamarah Amani of Southern Birth Justice Network Photos courtesy of Tifanny Burks and Jamarah Amani
Jamarah Amani is a Miami-based midwife who also trains "abortion doulas." The profession is similar to a birthing doula, only these nonmedical professionals support people before, during, and after their abortion. Following the enactment last month of Florida's 15-week abortion law and recent news that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-access case may be overturned by the Supreme Court, Amani has been fielding panicked calls from patients across South Florida.

Some, she says, wanted to know whether they should stock up on birth control, while others inquired about holistic ways to terminate a pregnancy if they could no longer opt for a medical procedure.

"We've heard that emergency contraception's already flying off the shelves," Amani, executive director of the local nonprofit Southern Birth Justice Network (SBJN), tells New Times. "People are stockpiling it because they don't want to be in a situation where they have to have an unintended pregnancy."

Amani has worked with SBJN for the past decade, training doulas, providing midwifery care, and advocating for better health services for women and families. SBJN is a Black- and queer-led organization that trains birthing and abortion doulas, who then independently offer their services in the community. The organization has a mutual aid program to provide free and low-cost doula services when an individual cannot afford their services, and doulas typically work on a sliding scale with affordable rates. While SBJN provides midwifery care to the entire community, they focus on Black, brown, youth, immigrant, indigenous, LGBTQ+, and low-income folks, and their work seeks to mitigate racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality rates. (Experts have said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, people of color and other marginalized, low-income communities will bear the brunt.)

While any profession that supports abortion access can become contentious, politicized, and even dangerous, the past few weeks have been especially exhausting for Miami's abortion doulas: Last Sunday, Politico released the leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court's conservative majority striking down Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in the U.S. to the point of "fetal viability," or until the fetus is able to survive outside the womb, a point considered to fall between 23 and 28 weeks. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, nearly two dozen U.S. states would likely ban abortions or severely restrict access to them.

While Florida isn't currently one of the 13 states that has enacted a so-called trigger law designed to immediately ban abortions the moment Roe v. Wade falls, experts have suggested the state could end up banning abortion entirely if the high court reverses the 1973 decision.

This news comes less than a month after Gov. Ron Desantis signed Florida's most restrictive abortion law to date on April 14. When it goes into effect on July 1, the will effectively ban all abortions after 15 weeks, and with no exceptions for rape or incest; the previous state law allowed abortions up to the third trimester (roughly 24 weeks).

"Why would the state of Florida feel like it's OK to force people to have a pregnancy when they can't even provide for maternity leave?" Amani asks. "It's like a double slap in the face: 'We're going to make you have this baby,' and 'We're also going to not give you the support that you need to have this baby.'"

"No matter what the government says, no matter what DeSantis says — no matter what, we're going to continue to do that work."

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As an abortion doula who works in SBJN's network, Tifanny Burks provides nonjudgmental emotional and physical comfort to people during the sometimes lonely process of an abortion, including providing clients a hand to hold during the procedure and/or a ride to the clinic.

So far, Burks has served more than 60 clients since 2020. The recent legislation and news regarding Roe v. Wade puts her work, and her clients, at risk.

"The access and the ability for people to get a safe and affordable abortion — that is what's going to be at stake," Burks tells New Times. "If you have a lot of wealth, you're going to be able to travel to a different state easily and get an abortion. But if you are income-insecure or housing-insecure, it's going to be harder."

According to Florida's newly inked abortion law, "any person who willfully performs, or actively participates in, a termination of pregnancy" after 15 weeks could face a third-degree felony charge and a sentence of up to five years in prison. It's not clear whether this would apply to abortion doulas, who often collaborate with abortion clinics, even though they work independently of the doctors and medical staff performing the procedures.

"What are the legal ramifications I'm going to face by supporting somebody making the best decision for their body?" Burks asks. "There's a lot of things that you have to consider — and there might be some people who say that the risk is too high."

Specifically, Burks worries about what would happen if she were to help a client terminate a pregnancy after the 15-week mark, and she intends to consult attorneys about the legal ramifications she may now face.

"How do I continue to provide this service that is crucially needed, especially in communities that look like me?" says Burks, who is Black. "How do I continue to provide this [service], while also taking care of myself?"

Rather than feeling despair, Burks reminds herself of the clandestine group of activists in Chicago known as the Jane Collective that provided healthcare, counseling, and abortion services to thousands of women during the late '60s and early '70s, a time when abortion was illegal throughout most of America.

Between Florida's current abortion ban and the potential for even stricter reproductive laws in the future, Burks says, she could see her role as an abortion doula continuing in a similar, underground way.

"We will, to the best of our abilities and in the safest way possible, continue to give people the resources they need to make the best decisions for their body and their family," she says. "No matter what the government says, no matter what DeSantis says — no matter what, we're going to continue to do that work."

Amani says that in the coming weeks, SBJN plans to hold a series of educational workshops to teach the community about fertility and holistic alternatives for self-managed abortions, in hopes of educating those who'll be most seriously affected by the state's recent abortion ban.

But Amani refuses to accept a post-Roe future quite yet.

"The leak of this information gives us the opportunity to be interrupters, to be on the frontlines, to raise our voices, and put pressure on people in decision-making positions," she declares. "There's a lot of things that can be done."
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca