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Florida's 6-week abortion ban takes effect as doctors worry women will lose access to health care

Abortion Florida
Posted at 6:21 AM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 08:21:28-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Florida's ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant, went into effect Wednesday, and some doctors are concerned that women in the state will no longer have access to needed health care.

Dr. Leah Roberts, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist with Boca Fertility in Boca Raton, said the anti-abortion laws being enacted by Florida and other red states are being vaguely written by people who don't understand medical science. The rules are affecting not just women who want therapeutic abortions, meaning procedures to terminate viable pregnancies because of personal choice, but also nonviable pregnancies for women who want to have babies.

“We’re coming in between them and their doctors and preventing them from getting care until it’s literally saving their lives, sometimes at the expense of their fertility,” Roberts said.

The new ban has an exception for saving a woman's life, as well as in cases involving rape and incest, but Roberts said health care workers are still prevented from performing an abortion on a nonviable pregnancy that they know may become deadly — such as when the fetus is missing organs or implanted outside the uterus — until it actually becomes deadly.

“We’re being told that we have to wait until the mother is septic to be able to intervene,” Roberts said.

Besides the physical danger, there's also the psychological trauma of having to carry a fetus that the mother knows will never be a healthy baby, Roberts said.

“They’re feeling the kicks for months after they’re being told that they’re never going to have a live birth," Roberts said. “And it’s just horrifying when you could take care of it at 20 weeks, and they could move on, and they could get pregnant with their next pregnancy and be able to hold their babies that much sooner.”

The Biden campaign quickly placed blame on for the “extreme” six-week ban on former President Donald Trump.

“Trump is worried the voters will hold him accountable for the cruelty and chaos he created. He’s right. Trump ripped away the rights and freedom of women in America. This November, voters are going to teach him a valuable lesson: Don’t mess with the women of America," President Joe Biden said in a statement about the new abortion ban.

Vice President Kamala Harris will also criticize the six-week ban on abortions during an event Wednesday in Jacksonville.

She said a huge issue with the ban is that the doctors who perform emergency abortions have to learn the procedures by performing therapeutic abortions. So if most abortions are banned, the next generation of doctors won't be able to develop the skills needed to perform an emergency abortion.

Roberts said she's concerned the restrictions will also prompt veteran doctors to leave Florida, as they have in other states that have enacted abortion bans.

“We’re going to have less access to care for our general population, even if it’s just basic maternity care and normal OB-GYN care, because people are leaving,” Roberts said.

In addition, women are going to have to travel far from home to get abortions. Florida Access Network executive director Stephanie Pineiro said the organization, which helps provide funding for abortions, expects costs to increase dramatically. She estimates it will cost around $3,000 for a woman to travel to another state for an abortion. The closest place after 12 weeks would be Virginia or Illinois, but before 12 weeks would be North Carolina.

“It’s very emotionally draining and challenging to deal with these types of barriers and have to leave your home,” Pineiro said.

The Florida Supreme Court, with five of its seven members appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, ruled 6-1 last month to uphold the state's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which cleared the way for the six-week ban. The 15-week ban, signed by DeSantis in 2022, had been enforced while it was challenged in court. The six-week ban, passed by the Legislature a year later, was written so that it would not take effect until a month after the 2022 law was upheld.

Republican state Sen. Erin Grall, who sponsored the six-week ban, previously said bodily autonomy should not include abortions.

“We live in a time where the consequences of our actions are an afterthought and convenience has been substitution for responsibility," Grall said, “and this is unacceptable when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable.”

Voters may be able to enshrine abortion rights in Florida's constitution after a separate state Supreme Court ruling allowed a proposed constitutional amendment to be on the November ballot. The proposal says, “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.” It provides for one exception that is already in the state constitution: Parents must be notified before their minor children can get an abortion.

Florida Democrats hope young voters would vote to enshrine abortion rights, as a way to combat the 900,000 voter registration edge Republicans have over Democrats in the state. They hope moderate views of the ballot initiative will turn out younger voters to vote Democrat when faced with the binary choice between a six-week abortion ban or protecting abortion until viability.

Jayden D'Onofrio, chairman of the Florida Future Leaders political action committee, said young Florida voters have a “real opportunity to shape the electoral landscape." Being that abortion rights have prevailed in elections nationwide, he thinks that Florida can engage young voters to register and vote for Democrats.

Nathan Mitchell, president of Florida Atlantic University College Republicans, said he would support a total abortion ban, and he hopes the amendment doesn't pass. Mitchell said he's seen most people want restrictions on abortion, usually for bans within 10 to 15 weeks of gestation.

Most Republican-controlled states have adopted bans or restrictions on abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. A survey of abortion providers conducted for the Society of Family Planning, which advocates for abortion access, found that Florida had the second-largest increase in the total number of abortions provided since the decision. The state’s data shows that more than 7,700 women from other states received abortions in Florida in 2023.

Florida Democratic leaders are encouraging women to seek help from abortion funds and resources. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book encouraged women to access abortion travel funds and urged them to avoid “taking matters into your own hands.”

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Matat reported from West Palm Beach, Florida. Nancy Benac contributed to this report from Washington.

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