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Abortion in Florida is now illegal after 6 weeks. What you should know

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As of Wednesday, May 1, most abortions in Florida will be illegal after six weeks.

The state's previous 15-week ban in 2022 took effect a month ago when the state Supreme Court overturned a 34-year-old decision that said a privacy provision in the state constitution protected a woman's right to have an abortion. But that decision also triggered a more restrictive six-week ban that was passed by the Florida legislature last year and took effect 30 days later.

This means Florida is no longer the southern state with the least restrictive abortion laws. Florida residents who need or want an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy would have to travel to North Carolina, where the limit is 12 weeks, or to Virginia, which has no laws banning abortions.

Previously, Florida was the destination of people in the South who had little or no access to abortion services, more than 25,000 in the last five years, according to the nonprofit website KFF Health News.

Abortions are currently banned in 14 states, limited to between six and 12 weeks of gestation in five states, and between 15 and 22 weeks of gestation in six other states. There are no abortion bans in 25 states and Washington, DC, according to the nonprofit organization KFF. Many Republican-led states rushed to enact abortion bans after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Roe v. Wade in 2022.

However, the Florida Supreme Court also ruled that a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion could be put on the November ballot this year. If voters approved this, Florida's abortion laws would more or less revert to where they were when Roe v. Wade was still in force.

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What are Florida's abortion laws?

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Abortion advocates support Roe v. Wade in Delray Beach, Florida

Protesters speak in favor of abortion rights after the Supreme Court heard the Roe v. Wade had picked up.

THE PALM BEACH POST, Palm Beach Post

As of May 1, all abortions (with a few exceptions) are illegal in the state of Florida after “a physician determines that the gestational age of the fetus is greater than 6 weeks,” a point at which many pregnant people do not yet know they are pregnant.

People may only have two weeks after missing their period to figure out and get both appointments at the state's overwhelmed clinics, leaving an extremely narrow window for a pregnant person in a potentially traumatic situation to take action. The state also requires a 24-hour waiting period, so patients must make two appointments before the legal deadline

While the law shortens the amount of time pregnant women have to have an abortion, it includes some exceptions for rape and incest that were missing from the 15-week ban, drawing criticism even from some advocates.

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When do most people find out they are pregnant?

According to a 2021 study by ANSIRH (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health) at the University of California San Francisco, about one in three women confirm their pregnancy at six weeks and one in five at seven weeks.

“Later confirmation of pregnancy is even higher among young people, people of color, and people living in food insecurity,” the study summary says, “suggesting that first-trimester abortion bans disproportionately harm these populations become.”

Does Florida's 6-Week Abortion Law Include Exceptions for Danger to the Mother?

Yes, but only for extreme cases. Two doctors must certify in writing that, in their opinion, an abortion is necessary “to save the life of the pregnant woman or to avert the serious risk of significant and irreversible physical impairment of an important bodily function.” A doctor can certify this if another is not available at the time.

This requires physicians willing to risk possible fines, loss of their license, and even prison time by going on record with regulatory boards and the state. Attempts by Democrats to clarify the conditions under which a doctor can make that call without jeopardizing his or her medical license were rejected.

Does Florida's 6-week abortion ban include exceptions for a fetus that has died or will die?

Yes. If two physicians have certified in writing that, based on reasonable medical judgment, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality, the pregnancy may be terminated.

However, the law now includes new language stating that the pregnancy must not “progress to the third trimester,” which could be interpreted to prohibit abortions for fatal fetal anomalies after 27 weeks.

Does Florida's six-week abortion ban include exceptions for rape or incest?

Abortions are permitted in cases of rape, incest, or human trafficking, but only up to 15 weeks and only if the pregnant person has copies of a “restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation” as evidence that they Are victims of rape or incest.

If the pregnant person is a minor, the doctor must report the incident of rape or incest to the central abuse hotline.

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Does Florida's six-week abortion ban ban abortion pills?

Abortion pills are prohibited unless administered in person by a licensed physician.

So-called “abortion pills” – actually two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, taken up to 48 hours apart – that cause a person's cervix to dilate and their uterus to contract, causing the embryo to empty from the person's uterus in 2010 have enjoyed dramatic popularity in recent years both for reasons of relative convenience compared to surgical abortions and for circumventing abortion bans. Access to them has been challenged and is being decided by the US Supreme Court.

The new law clearly states that abortions can only be performed by a doctor in the same room. Telemedicine sessions are expressly prohibited.

Can I go to jail for having an abortion after 6 weeks in Florida?

Florida law prohibits anyone from intentionally performing or actively assisting someone in obtaining an abortion outside of the six-week gestation period or statutory exceptions. This is considered a third-degree felony and is punishable by a fine and five years in prison. It is unclear whether the pregnant person is also liable.

What abortion laws used to exist in Florida?

Before the 15-week ban, the Roe v. Wade standard applied across the country for decades. Abortion was legal:

  • Until the end of the first trimester (up to 12 weeks) for any reason
  • During the second trimester (up to 24 weeks) to protect the health of the pregnant person
  • During the third trimester when necessary to maintain the life or health of the pregnant person

The 39th to 40th week is considered a full-term pregnancy.

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What would Amendment 4, Florida's abortion amendment, do?

The proposed amendment submitted by Floridians Protecting Freedom that will appear on the November ballot reads:

“No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before it is viable or when necessary to protect the health of the patient as determined by the patient's health care provider. This change does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor obtains an abortion.”

Fetal viability was estimated at approximately 24 weeks.

For the amendment to pass, it must be won by a supermajority, or at least 60% of the vote. Half said they would vote for it, according to an exclusive USA TODAY/Ipsos poll of more than 1,000 Floridians.

Anna Harden

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