Voices from the Frontlines: Dr. Chelsea Daniels, Family Physician & Abortion Provider in Florida (Part 1)

July 06, 2024


Voices from the Frontlines:
Dr. Chelsea Daniels, Family Physician & Abortion Provider in Florida
(Part 1)

Written by Anna Hindman DO, AMSA Reproductive Health Project Fellow and PGY1 at Kaiser Napa Solano Family Medicine Residency

Below is an interview with Dr. Chelsea Daniels, a Family Medicine doctor and abortion provider in Florida. Before we get started, I just want to say what an honor it was to have Dr. Daniels in this space. As a future abortion provider myself, like many of our readers, it is so important to hear from current providers and to connect with and support each other, especially during these challenging and frankly terrifying times in reproductive healthcare. 

Anna: To start off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you’re from and what you do now? 

Dr. Daniels: I grew up in LA, went to UC Berkeley for undergrad, SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn for med school, and UNC-Chapel Hill for residency in Family Medicine. I always kind of knew that I wanted to be an abortion provider in a battleground state, so after residency, I applied to full-time family planning and abortion-focused jobs all over the country, and I ultimately chose Florida. I’m now a Staff Physician at Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, where I provide a whole host of reproductive health and family planning services including abortion care, gender affirming care, colposcopy, LEEP, vasectomy, and complex contraception. I’m also a travel abortion provider at Whole Woman’s Health in Virginia and Maryland, and I work for FOLX Health, which is a gender-affirming care organization, as well. 

Anna: What initially drew you to work as an abortion provider?

Dr. Daniels: To be honest, there wasn’t one specific moment. I applied to and started med school right as TRAP laws were being passed en masse to shut down abortion clinics (TRAP stands for targeted regulations on abortion clinics and providers). TRAP laws seem like so long ago, now that we’re in a post-Roe world, but TRAP laws were those that said “hallways have to be this many inches wide,” and “the clinic has to within X many miles of a hospital;” if a clinic didn’t adhere to these arbitrary rules, it would be shut down. I think starting medical school with this political backdrop really crystallized my draw to abortion care. And now, all these years later, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I love my job, and I’m so grateful every day to set the record straight about how safe and normal abortion and birth control are.
So yeah, my job is wonderful.

Anna: You mentioned that you always wanted to work in a battleground state? Could you talk a little bit more about that? 

Dr. Daniels: Going into Family Medicine, I wanted the best full-spectrum training I could possibly get across inpatient, OB, primary care, intensive care, and abortion care – I firmly believe that being an astute clinician across different settings makes you an astute abortion provider, as well, because abortion care really does not exist in a silo. 

I ultimately chose UNC because it offered me that robust, full-scope family medicine training, and I also had the opportunity to spend all of my elective time and every free Saturday at the local Planned Parenthood. Training as a resident in a state like North Carolina really laid the foundation for me about what restrictive abortion states look like – I was in North Carolina when the Dobbs decision was passed, for example. I think it helped me understand what it’s like to be an abortion provider in a ban state.

When I moved to Florida in 2023, Florida had just enacted a 15-week ban. And as of May 1, 2024, we’re living under a 6-week ban. We do have the amazing opportunity to vote YES on a Florida state constitutional amendment that’s going to be on the ballot this November – it’s a huge chance for us to tell Florida legislators to keep out of the exam room. 

It’s interesting – in my job as an abortion provider, I provide a medical service, but 

Abortion has become so much more than medical these days – because politicians have made it so.
I like being in a place where I can work on the “so much more” part of things to fight for my patients. 

Anna: I absolutely love that. Speaking of all the legislative changes and legal restrictions in Florida, how has that impacted the services that you’re able to provide?

Dr. Daniels: It’s been really awful – like a punch to the gut. When I first started in Florida, we were providing care up to 15 weeks. Now, it’s 6 weeks. Prior to Dobbs, it was 24 weeks. And in North Carolina, I was trained to provide 22 weeks. So, moving to Florida, I initially took a seven-week cut in my skills (and now, a 16 week cut), which is part of why I work as a travel provider in Virginia and Maryland. 

Every single day, we’re having to redirect patients to other states because six weeks is so, so early. 

We’re still providing abortions for the people who know that they’re pregnant before six weeks, but it’s the minority of patients who both realize they’re pregnant and can access care in time. But my job is so much more than abortion. We gender affirming care, colposcopy, LEEP, vasectomy, sexual dysfunction, infertility – the list goes on! And I think that that just goes to show that for me, and I think for all abortion providers, abortion exists on a spectrum of pregnancy-related care. It’s like if you were to tell a cardiologist: “You treat hypertension and heart failure, but now the government says you can’t treat AFib.” They’d be like, “What? Why?” And that’s kind of how abortion feels to me, right? It just exists as this thing that I do alongside everything else. 

Anna: Absolutely. When patients are directed to different states if they are past 6 weeks, do you have connections with local abortion funds to help patients financially or to get them with out-of-state care? How does that work?

Dr. Daniels: I’ll speak to how my Planned Parenthood affiliate works this out – we have a really robust Patient Navigation team who help get patients out of state, and they also offer funding to help people travel. 

But I think it’s also important to remember that Florida had 84,000 abortions in 2023. There is no single state that can accommodate that volume.
So, our teams are amazing and our people are dedicated,
but a ban is a ban, and it is devastating to our communities.

And [as of the time of this interview] we’re only about one month into the six-week ban. We’re already navigating dozens and dozens and dozens of people to other states. I can only imagine what two and three months down the line will look like.

Anna: Well, speaking of that, what specific challenges have your colleagues or your patients faced since this six-week ban was enacted?

Dr. Daniels: I think that there are a lot of challenging aspects to providing abortion care in Florida. For example, there’s a 24-hour waiting period that existed even before the 6-week ban went into effect – but now with a 6-week ban, this waiting period feels even worse, because every day counts. The waiting period means that patients must meet with a physician, in person, at least 24 hours before an abortion can be legally provided.  So this draws out the whole experience for patients in a way that is not medically indicated.  

Another part that has been really challenging to navigate are the “exceptions” of the 6-week ban (I’m air-quoting “exceptions,” because that’s really what they are – “exceptions,” not exceptions).  They require extra documentation, two-physician sign offs, and just endless hoop-jumping for patients to access basic medical care – even when they are facing life-threatening situations. 

This is what abortion bans do to people.

Tune in next Saturday for Part 2!


Read another Voices from the Frontlines interview by Anna:
Loretta Ross Unveils the Roots and Calls in the Future of Reproductive Justice

*Note: an excerpt of this Spotlight is included in AMSA Reproductive Health Project eNews #23: Standing for Reproductive Freedom, July 6, 2024.
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