Health | Doctors are vying against Florida's six-week abortion ban

With just days until Florida's six-week abortion ban goes into effect on Wednesday, providers are rushing to perform as many abortions as possible while planning for contingencies for a future by which they must turn away hundreds of girls.

In recent weeks, clinics have expanded their hours, prioritized ultrasounds and added appointments. They have increased their patient navigation efforts and strengthened relationships with abortion fund groups just like the Florida Access Network, which offer financial and logistical support to people searching for to terminate a pregnancy.

The ban provides limited exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking, maternal health and fatal fetal anomalies.

“Planned Parenthood's motto has always been 'Care, no matter what.' And we don't turn away patients. So this is a very devastating and tragic situation for our staff who have to say, 'We can't take care of you, we have to send you somewhere else,'” said Barbara Zdravecky, interim CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

Patient panic

“We have registrations all around the clinic, we're talking to patients… But I imagine that come May 1st we'll have patients who’re over six weeks old and don’t know that they're not in a position to do that to get an abortion. And I feel it's hard to overstate the panic that individuals will feel,” Daniels said.

More than 84,000 abortions were performed in Florida last yr, including greater than 7,000 on women who got here from other countries, based on state data.

The six-week ban, considered one of the strictest within the country, was passed by the Legislature in 2023 and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but was only recently declared constitutional by the state Supreme Court. The sixth week of pregnancy is about two weeks after a pregnant woman misses her first period.

Florida also requires two in-person visits no less than 24 hours apart before someone can have an abortion. Some providers say these requirements effectively discourage some people from having the procedure in any respect.

Pursue alternatives

Zdravecky and other Planned Parenthood leaders at the moment are preparing for a future by which the variety of abortions performed in Florida drops dramatically.

To compensate, the clinics will proceed to supply and expand their other services.

Clinics in Southwest and Central Florida will resume offering vasectomies and give attention to expanding access to contraception and the Plan B pill, which might be taken inside five days of unprotected sex to forestall sperm from fertilizing an egg, said Zdravecky.

Once the ban goes into effect, those that can find the funds will travel to other states. For most residents of Florida and the southeastern United States, North Carolina is the closest state where an abortion might be performed within the last 6 weeks. The closest location for an abortion after 12 weeks is Virginia or Illinois.

Many others will use the Internet to order abortion pills, either illegally or through telemedicine appointments with out-of-state doctors who can prescribe them under “shield laws” that protect them from out-of-state prosecution even in states like Florida, where Doctors who are usually not allowed to prescribe pills via telemedicine.

The pills are generally considered secure and might be taken for as much as about 10 weeks. Florida clinics can proceed to supply follow-up visits to those that received the abortion pills online.

“We want to be able to help everyone with whatever type of care we legally can to make sure they get the care they need to stay healthy,” Zdravecky said.

Florida law also prohibits people from receiving the pills by mail, however the U.S. Department of Justice decided in January 2023 that the postal service can proceed to deliver abortion pills to states where the pills are banned. This ruling supersedes state law.

Legal swamp

The law provides exceptions for rape, human trafficking and incest as much as 15 weeks of pregnancy, but requires documentation equivalent to a police report or a restraining order.

There are also exceptions for maternal health and for fetuses with a “fatal fetal anomaly,” a nonclinical term defined as a condition by which the newborn dies at birth or immediately afterward.

“I asked three lawyers: What does immediate mean? And one told me a day, one told me a week and one told me a month. How should I interpret that?” said a Central Florida abortion provider who asked to stay anonymous because she was not authorized to talk to the press.

Anyone who helps someone terminate their pregnancy in violation of the law could lose their medical license and be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison.

“These exceptions are incredibly difficult to decipher, define and follow,” Daniels said. “Doctors and lawyers who advise us, we are afraid to make medical decisions that could put us in legal jeopardy, even when we understand that our medical decisions are based on science.”

But providers and hospitals which can be too conservative in granting exceptions also can face consequences.

In 2023, Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood refused to supply an abortion to a girl whose water had ruptured because she was past Florida's 15-week limit, although she was vulnerable to infection. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded that the hospital violated a federal law requiring it to supply emergency care and threatened to chop off a whole bunch of tens of millions of dollars in federal funding in a letter obtained by The Washington Post , if the system doesn’t take corrective motion.

AdventHealth Central Florida and Orlando Health, Central Florida's two major hospital systems, didn’t immediately respond when asked how they might determine which conditions would qualify for waivers under the six-week ban.

The fallout

Zdravecky is optimistic that Floridians will vote in November to repeal the six-week ban and protect abortion until the age at which a baby can survive outside the womb.

Even then, she said, clinics face months of legal challenges before the ban is lifted, and lots of women searching for abortions won’t have the option to have them during that point.

“It will be a very dramatic situation in the lives of Floridians. It really is a health crisis,” she said.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, doesn’t plan to shut clinics, Zdravecky added, although smaller independent clinics may not have the option to generate enough funding to remain open.

“Abortion services make up the majority of their business and it will be an economic burden on them if they don’t have patients and revenue while we wait and try to get the ballot initiative passed,” Zdravecky said.

Overall, abortions within the United States have increased for the reason that fall of Roe v. Wade gained weight, the The Guttmacher Institute credits increased efforts by clinics, abortion funds, support organizations and the emergence of online pill ordering networks.

But abortion falls into states where it’s restricted. The Guttmacher Institute found that in South Carolina, the variety of abortions offered within the formal health care system fell by 71% within the month after the state began enforcing a six-week abortion ban in 2023.

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