Florida’s 6-week abortion ban likely to pass. What other hurdles exist?

Women in Florida seeking to access abortion face other laws like a 24-hour waiting period.
An exam room is seen inside Planned Parenthood Friday, March 10, 2023, in Fairview Heights, Ill. Many women will travel this year away from their homes in nearby states where abortion access has been restricted to be seen at clinics like Planned Parenthood in southern Illinois.
An exam room is seen inside Planned Parenthood Friday, March 10, 2023, in Fairview Heights, Ill. Many women will travel this year away from their homes in nearby states where abortion access has been restricted to be seen at clinics like Planned Parenthood in southern Illinois. [ JEFF ROBERSON | AP ]
Published March 29|Updated March 29

Three weeks after it was filed, Florida’s six-week abortion ban has passed through its final committee in the Senate — and is scheduled to be heard by the full chamber later this week.

The proposed legislation, SB 300, would restrict abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in nearly all cases. There’s an exception for pregnancies as the result of rape or incest, but only up until 15 weeks and with documentation “providing evidence,” like a police report, medical record or restraining order.

Abortion rights advocates have argued that the law effectively amounts to a total ban on abortion in Florida, because many women may not know they’re pregnant by six weeks. When they do, it could take time to get into a clinic. It takes about 20 days for a Planned Parenthood patient in Central Florida to go through the required process to get an abortion, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

If passed, Florida’s six-week abortion restriction would only take effect if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of the current 15-week law, which is currently being challenged as unconstitutional by a collection of abortion providers.

Here are other things to know about abortion access in Florida.

What’s the mandatory waiting period to get an abortion?

Floridians seeking an abortion can only do so if they have two appointments at least 24 hours apart. The law requiring Florida’s waiting period was passed in 2015, but only took effect last year after a seven-year-long legal battle.

During the first appointment, which must be done in person, a doctor must provide a patient with the gestational age of the fetus, verified by an ultrasound. They must offer the woman the chance to see the ultrasound and have it explained to her, and if the patient declines to view it, she must sign a form acknowledging that denial. In Georgia, which also has a six-week ban, similar mandated counseling can be done remotely.

A doctor doesn’t have to go through that process if a patient has a police report, medical record, or other court order or document that shows she is a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking, or if a physician has diagnosed the woman with a condition making the abortion medically necessary.

Physicians also must offer patients the chance to see documents offering a description of the fetus and its stages of development, a “list of entities that offer alternatives to terminating the pregnancy,” and documents showing assistance benefits for childbirth and neonatal care.

Can minors get an abortion?

Parental consent is required for Floridians under 18 wanting an abortion. There is an exception if a doctor’s “good faith clinical judgment” determines there’s a medical necessity and there’s insufficient time to comply with notification.

State law allows minors to petition a judge to let them get an abortion without parental consent. The judge would have to determine “by clear and convincing evidence” that the minor is “sufficiently mature” to choose an abortion.

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The judge can also grant a petition for an abortion without parental consent if they find the child is a victim of sexual abuse inflicted by a parent or guardian.

When considering whether a minor can terminate their pregnancy without parental consent, a judge shall consider things like her age, emotional development, ability to accept responsibility and to understand and explain the medical risks of terminating her pregnancy, according to state statute.

Judges have declined children access an abortion before. A 16-year-old girl in Florida’s Panhandle was deemed not mature enough to end her pregnancy, according to a judge’s ruling when she sought a waiver. And a report from the Human Rights Watch foundation found judges in Hillsborough County denied abortion requests from teenagers at a higher rate than in any other part of Florida.

Judges are supposed to rule on the waivers within three business days after a petition is filed by someone seeking an abortion. If the court does not grant their ability to have an abortion, the minor can appeal, and that appellate court must rule within seven days.

During the Tuesday hearing on SB 300, Sen. Erin Grall, R-Lake Placid, the bill’s sponsor, acknowledged it would be very difficult for a teenager to go through the judicial bypass process within six weeks, but said the law was about “protecting that unborn child.”

“I think the purpose of this bill is to say that when there is life, we are going to protect it,” Grall said.

Can abortion medications be prescribed remotely?

Nearly half of all Florida abortions in 2021 were performed via medication, not surgery, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abortion providers say the medication is a safe way for women who cannot take time off work to make it to a clinic to access an abortion at home. But Florida law effectively prohibits medication used for abortion from being prescribed via telehealth because of the mandatory in-person appointment 24 hours beforehand.

Florida’s six-week ban would put that prohibition into statute, saying that any medication for an abortion must be dispensed in person, not through the U.S. Postal Service or other couriers.

Under the bill, are there exceptions for medical necessity?

Both Florida’s current abortion law and the proposed six-week ban leave an avenue for the procedure later in pregnancy in cases of medical necessity.

Two physicians must certify that the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or prevent “substantial and irreversible” physical, but not psychological, injury. Two physicians also must certify whether a fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Only one physician is required in emergency situations when another one is not available for consultation.

Democrats and members of the public who came to speak out against the bill argued that the requirement for two physicians is too high for women who live in rural areas without regular access to a doctor.

Amendments to tweak the bill to require only one doctor have failed.

Obstetric gynecologists who came to testify against the six-week ban told lawmakers that they’re not lawyers, and determining the idea of medical necessity can be fuzzy, especially with their medical license on the line.

In Lakeland, a woman who was 23 weeks pregnant discovered her fetus had Potter’s syndrome, which causes abnormal kidney and lung development and is likely fatal. But the nearby hospital declined to induce early labor to terminate the pregnancy, citing the 15-week law, according to the Lakeland Ledger.

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