(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) — Florida’s state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks, the same gestational limit currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The bill, HB 5, which passed the state House in February, is expected to move quickly to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has previously said he is supportive of a ban after 15 weeks.
If signed by DeSantis, the bill will go into effect July 1.
The bill does not make exceptions for rape or incest, but does allow for exceptions if the fetus has a fatal abnormality or in cases when the mother is at risk of death or “substantial or irreversible physical impairment.”
Those exceptions would require written certification from two physicians.
Currently, abortions are allowed in Florida up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion rights advocates argue that banning abortion after 15 weeks will further harm patients who need care the most, including people of color, people of limited economic means and people who lack health insurance.
Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told ABC News that doctors like herself are “scared and sad” about the bill’s potential impact.
“The biggest impact of the bill is going to be hurting our patients’ access to the care that they need,” said Prabhakaran, also a practicing OB-GYN in Sarasota, Florida. “We know that when there are these restrictions, it doesn’t mean that the need for the care goes away, it just means that it makes it even harder for patients to access the care.”
HB 5’s passage in the Senate comes as the Supreme Court is reviewing a similar Mississippi law that bars abortion after 15 weeks.
In the case, Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the state of Mississippi is arguing to uphold a law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while Jackson Women’s Health, Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic, argues the Supreme Court’s protection of a woman’s right to choose the procedure is clear, well-established and should be respected.
Since the Roe v. Wade ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling that affirmed the decision, the court has never allowed states to prohibit the termination of pregnancies prior to fetal viability outside the womb, roughly 24 weeks, according to medical experts.
If the Supreme Court rules in Mississippi’s favor and upholds the law — as is expected because of the court’s current conservative makeup — the focus will turn to states, more than half of which are prepared to ban abortion if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization.
Because the states that plan to ban abortion are focused in specific geographic regions, including the South, the expected effect is that women will have to travel much longer distances, at a greater cost and inconvenience, to seek abortion care, according to Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director of state issues at the Guttmacher Institute,
“If you’re thinking about the average abortion costing $550, and then somebody trying to navigate a trip of several hundred miles, you’re adding hundreds of dollars to the cost and you’re asking that person to pull that money together very quickly,” she told ABC News in January. “That is an insurmountable burden for so many.”
Prabhakaran said she and other doctors in Florida are already seeing patients from states as far away as Texas, which last year enacted a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
As of 2017, abortions in Florida represent just over 8% of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute.
According to Prabhakaran, a 15-week ban in Florida has the potential to force pregnant people to travel as far as North Carolina and Washington, D.C., for care.
“While abortion is very safe, the the higher the gestational age, the more risk there is potentially to patients who have a complication,” she said, adding that the lack of access also means some patients will continue with high-risk pregnancies while others will seek other care. “What I worry is going to start to happen again is that patients will be taking care from unqualified providers, and that that will put them at risk.”
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