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What Florida's Six-Week Abortion Ban Means for Women

Physicians say the new law, if enacted, will prevent pregnant women from receiving needed care.

By Elizabeth Djinis July 5, 2023

It took about a year for Florida to go from having one of the least restrictive abortion policies in the United States to having one of the most restrictive. Until last year, abortions were allowed in the state until a woman was 24 weeks pregnant. Then, in the span of less than a month, the Florida Legislature passed a 15-week ban and the state’s courts approved a 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

More recently, the Legislature has banned most abortions after six weeks from one’s last menstrual period, amounting to what opponents call a near-total ban. The law’s language is direct: “A physician may not knowingly perform or induce a termination of pregnancy if the physician determines the gestational age of the fetus is more than six weeks.” Performing an abortion in violation of the new law would be a third-degree felony and become more serious for the provider if the pregnant woman dies.

The law allows for a number of exceptions—if a pregnant woman’s life or major bodily function is at risk, if there is a fatal fetal abnormality and the pregnancy has not progressed to the third trimester, or if the pregnancy is a “result of rape, incest or human trafficking” and the gestational age is not more than 15 weeks. Because of pending court cases, it’s unknown when the ban will take effect, but if or when it does, abortion providers and legal experts say it will make it nearly impossible for pregnant women to receive the care they may need. Six weeks refers to the time that has elapsed from a woman’s last period, which translates to about two weeks after a missed period. That means most people will have a narrow window to discover they are pregnant, schedule a preliminary appointment for an abortion and wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure.

While Republicans have touted the bill’s exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking, Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, says that is misleading. The state’s previous policy allowed abortion up to 15 weeks regardless of the cause. This new legislation requires a form of evidence—a restraining order, police report or medical record, for example—that the pregnancy actually occurred due to rape, incest or human trafficking.

If enacted, the ban will affect Florida’s status as a destination for out-of-state visitors seeking abortions. In the six months following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Florida experienced the largest increase of any
state in the number of abortions performed by a clinician. The state saw almost 7,200 more abortions between last July and last December when compared with monthly averages from April and May, according to a report from the Society of
Family Planning.

That data is echoed by what some physicians are seeing on the ground. Most counties in Florida don’t have an abortion care provider, so even many in-state patients have to travel to receive an abortion, says Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran, an
abortion care physician for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. Prabhakaran says the increase in out-of-state patients dates back to at least September 2021, when Texas’ heartbeat ban went into effect. Before that, it was rare to see a patient from out of state. Now at least one is present in nearly every clinic session.

“The entire South has been coming to northern Florida,” says Stephanie Fraim, the president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and
Central Florida. “For women in the South, this is really devastating.”

A handful of organizations are fighting the new restrictions. Floridians Protecting Freedoms is a statewide campaign working to protect access to reproductive health care. Its current project is a petition to place abortion on the 2024 ballot so the public can vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would limit
government interference in abortion. Organizations such as The National Network of Abortion Funds and the Florida Access Network are also working to help women in need of care.

“The one thing that I keep saying is abortion is health care,” says Prabhakaran.
“When you limit access to health care for people, their health outcomes are worse. It should be that simple.”

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