Here’s where Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani gets her drive—and her empathy—to keep fighting for abortion rights

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla)

By Bonnie Fuller

December 22, 2023

Florida Rep. Anna V. Eskamani was 18 years old when she held her first pack of birth control pills in her hand.

“I just felt this deep sense of gratitude for having control and freedom placed in my hand,” she revealed to Floricua, in an exclusive interview.

Eskamani points to this as the specific moment when she first became committed to reproductive rights—not just for herself, the daughter of Iranian immigrants, who had to turn to Planned Parenthood for information about contraception—but for all Floridians.

That’s why today, the Democrat who has represented Florida’s 42nd district since 2018, has joined the fight to get the ‘Amendment To Limit Government Interference in Abortion’ on the state ballot in November 2024.

The proposed amendment will be put to Floridians in the Nov. 5, 2024 election. It’s a citizen-led ballot initiative that, if passed, would create an amendment in the state constitution establishing that “no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability, or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

Eskamani couldn’t be more opposed to the six-week abortion ban that was passed in April by Republicans in the state Legislature, and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. That ban is currently on hold, pending a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, but a 15-week ban is actively in place—and it’s already had life threatening results for Florida women, some of whom have gone public with their stories.

“Regardless of what your decision is when you face a pregnancy, whether you chose to become a parent, or you choose adoption or you choose to end that pregnancy, I believe wholeheartedly that decision needs to be made between that person, their family, their doctor, their God and not politicians,” Eskamani said.

“I believe firmly that abortion access is an issue of motherhood. It is an issue of family. It is deciding what your family looks like. And so many women who make the decision to end a pregnancy already have children.”

 

This fight is personal for Eskamani

Eskamani, who represents parts of Orlando, Maitland, Winter Park, Eatonville, Edgewood and Belle Isle in the state house, said that the reproductive freedom issue resonates with her in an especially personal way.

She said that her mother became one of those women who already had children when she unexpectedly became pregnant again.

“She told us that she really wanted to have another Anna, Ida, Arya—those are the names of myself and my siblings—but we just couldn’t afford it yet,” Eskamani said. “And so she was telling us that she ended a pregnancy—an unplanned pregnancy.

“She was married to my dad and it would’ve been a decision that she would’ve loved to have made, but her care for her children that she already had is what motivated her to make this decision. And she deserved to have the options to make those decisions, as every person does.”

Watch: Rep. Anna V. Eskamani doesn’t hold back on how she feels about the Zieglers

 

While Gov. DeSantis and other extreme conservatives in Florida famously railed against their freedoms being violated when asked to wear masks and get vaccinated during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have had no reservations about interfering with the bodily rights of almost 4 million women of child-bearing age in the Sunshine State. And yet, the majority of Florida voters—including more than half of Republicans surveyed—said in November that they would support a ballot measure protecting abortion access in the 2024 election.

There are already early indicators that they’ll make good on that pledge. To get the abortion rights amendment on the ballot, the group behind it—Floridians Protecting Freedom—needed a minimum of 891,523 Florida voters from at least half of the state’s congressional districts to sign their petitions before Feb. 1, 2024. As of the time of publication, the group says they’ve already got around 1.4 million.

“I don’t consider abortion to be a conservative issue,” Eskamani said. “I think that there’s a vocal minority who have co-opted abortion to become a partisan issue, but in actuality, it’s not. I mean, when you face an unplanned pregnancy, no one cares what your party affiliation is.”

 

Eskamani’s empathy comes from having been there—a rarity in politics

Growing up in Orlando with her twin sister and big brother, little Anna Eskamani was very close to her immigrant parents.

Her dad worked in a donut shop and studied to get an engineering degree. Her mom, an accountant in Iran, worked her way up to be a manager at a Florida Kmart. “Despite having a lot of love in the house, we did not have a lot of money,” Eskamani said.

Tragically, her mom was diagnosed with cancer when Eskamani was nine, and died when she was 13.

“She was incredibly brave, and I was one of her caregivers in her final days,” Eskamani said. She remembered being a “late bloomer,” and that even at age 13, she didn’t want to have a talk about reproductive issues with her mom.

“I remember her trying to talk to us about it, and I was like, ‘Mom, we’ll just talk about it later,” she said. “It wasn’t that I felt embarrassed—I just refused to accept the reality that she wouldn’t be here to talk to me about it later.”

“If I let her talk about it, I was accepting the fact that she wouldn’t be here anymore— and I just refused to accept that.”

Eskamani said that she and her sister “really struggled” when their periods started just a few months after their mother’s death.

The twins at first used sanitary napkins and tampons left among their mother’s belongings, but when those ran out, they had to resort to making do with wads of toilet paper.

They didn’t want to tell their dad or brother, who were “going through so much and it was just something that in an immigrant family is very taboo.”

“So I and my sister experienced a lot of menstruation shame,” she said.

Eskamani said that “many, many times I was spotting because I didn’t have the right resources to manage my period. So I would wear a sweater around my waist and try to protect myself from being embarrassed.”

Finally, she and her sister walked to a Winn-Dixie and bought menstruation supplies.

“That was my first exposure to the realities of not having access to information, resources, and even just the culture of shame towards reproductive issues.”

Eskamani stressed that these early experiences are what made her so appreciative of the door that opened when she was 18 and paid $20 for an appointment at Planned Parenthood.

“It was such a great experience,” she said. “I was able to get all my questions answered and left with the contraception that was right for me.”

The feeling of having that moment of freedom and control was so profound for Eskamani that she began volunteering for Planned Parenthood on her college campus, including hosting fundraisers for the organization.

Her efforts led to an entry level job offer at Planned Parenthood after graduation.

She grew in her role and was promoted multiple times during her six years with the group, finally becoming the senior director of public affairs and communications across 11 health centers.

Today, as a member of Florida’s GOP-dominated Legislature, the Democrat has full empathy for the repercussions the abortion bans have had on Floridians.

“I walk into the chamber with a really in-depth experience of personal perspective and of course, just working at an abortion provider, it helps you understand the issues in ways that most people just can’t,” she said.

While Eskamani acknowledges the reality of being one of 35 Democrats versus 84 Republicans in the state Legislature, she refuses to let those lopsided odds deter her from fighting for reproductive rights and the other needs of her constituents.

“I don’t get breaks because these fights are heavy,” she said. In fact, one of her personal mottos has been “Change can happen if you refuse to give up.”

It’s that determination, along with her stances on workers’ rights, voters’ rights, disability rights, immigration, reproductive rights, LGBTQ and economic justice, that have earned her a galactic fan—Star Wars jedi Mark Hamill.

They met through Twitter (now called X), and he became such a huge champion for Eskamani that he spoke to her campaign supporters after she won re-election in 2022.

“Her commitment and her passion are overwhelming,” Hamill said at the event. “She is inclusive and she’s right on every issue I care about.”

“At the risk of having to pay a royalty to George Lucas,” Hamill said, “I say, “May the force be with you, Anna!”

Author

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights.

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