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Florida’s 15-week abortion ban would be cruel | Editorial
The only abortions this bill would stop involve the most excruciating decisions mothers must make.
Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021.
Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. [ ANDREW HARNIK | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 3, 2022|Updated Mar. 4, 2022

Let’s get one “fact” out of the way at the top. This bill that would ban nearly all abortions in Florida after 15 weeks? It’s not really accurate to call it “pro-life.” After all, 94 percent of all abortions in Florida already occur in the first trimester, so this ban would not stop them. Of course, the bill is certainly not “pro-choice” either. On that both sides would agree.

No, this bill is neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice.” What it is, is just cruel. And yet House Bill 5 is on the fast track to becoming the law in Florida. The Senate passed the House version Thursday night, and it’s headed for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.

Why cruel? It’s not just that there are no exceptions for rape or incest or human trafficking. And it’s not just that a fetus isn’t viable at 15 weeks, which means it can’t survive outside the womb, yet the state would invade a woman’s privacy — and her body — to take such a fundamentally private choice away from her. No, it’s cruel because these bills would steal the decision from parents who desperately want to have a baby, but the fetus has such horrible medical issues that it may survive birth only to die after a short painful life.

Many of these conditions are simply unknowable before more than 15 weeks have passed. Times staff writer Kirby Wilson wrote poignantly about Danielle and Jason Tallafuss. Just after 20 weeks, they discovered that Nathaniel, the baby they dearly wanted, had hypoplastic left-heart syndrome. The specialist laid out three options: Let Nathaniel be born and soon die, terminate the pregnancy or gamble on a series of expensive, potentially painful surgeries on his tiny body.

Danielle and Jason believe they spared their child from trauma. Yet they also know they’ll never be truly at peace. It’s a wrenching choice no parent should ever have to make. But how can anyone argue the choice should not have been theirs? Yet, this bill would likely have outlawed the decision they made.

Our opinion pages have published several columns by ob-gyns who wrote about this exact dilemma: heartbroken parents who find out after 15 weeks that their babies will face excruciating suffering if they are carried to term. The bill makes an exception only for a “fatal fetal abnormality,” which excludes babies who might survive birth only to live a brief life in agony. This bill would take state control of these mothers’ bodies and force them to give birth to babies who will suffer and die. Whose interest is being served? It’s not hard to guess. This can only be the latest move in a gambit to ban more abortions.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court established that a woman’s right to privacy makes abortion legal until the fetus is viable outside the womb, typically around 24 weeks. (A baby born in Alabama holds the world record for premature birth: With the extraordinary aid of modern medicine, he survived at 21 weeks and one day of gestation. His twin did not.) To be clear, Roe means the Florida bill is currently unconstitutional, but that could well change. The Supreme Court is considering a law in Mississippi with a 15-week ban, and the decision could come any day. If viability is no longer the standard, it’s hard to know where the courts — or Florida — would stop.

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The number of abortions in Florida peaked more than 15 years ago, and the national rate has been trending downward for years, something to applaud. After all, in the best of worlds abortions would be legal and available but rare. And medication abortion — a doctor-prescribed two-pill regimen that a woman can get through the mail and take at home up through 10 weeks of pregnancy — now accounts for more than half of them. That also changes the terms of the debate.

Florida reported 79,648 abortions last year. Even if this heartless bill becomes law, 75,000 or more of them would still be legal. The only ones that would be banned are the hardest ones, the ones where the state should take the most care to stay out of a family’s business. The bill’s title says it’s about “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality.” Hardly. All it would really do is increase the suffering of the innocent.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.