- Abortion rights advocates are mobilizing supporters to fight legislation anticipated from the Republican-controlled state Legislature to adopt an abortion ban similar to Texas’s new law.
- The Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 prohibits abortions after a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, and does not make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
- Florida Republicans could also pursue something akin to a Mississippi law that would outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks, said Stephanie Fraim, chief executive officer and president of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida and Central Florida.
The landscape for ending pregnancy in Florida could change dramatically as the abortion battle intensifies.
Abortion rights advocates are mobilizing supporters to fight legislation from the Republican-controlled state Legislature to adopt an abortion ban similar to Texas’s new law. The state Legislative session starts Jan. 11.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, introduced House Bill 167 that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, roughly at six weeks, and similar to the Texas law, his legislation would rely on citizens to report violators rather than law enforcement.
“Right now in Florida, the access is reasonable,” said Stephanie Fraim, chief executive officer and president of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida and Central Florida.
Barnaby’s bill is part of an aggressive and nationwide movement with one goal in mind of banning abortion, Fraim said in a statement.
“A Texas-style abortion ban in Florida would be devastating, not just for Florida but for the entire southeastern United States that relies on safe and judgment-free abortion access here in Florida,” she said.
DeSantis, who opposes abortion, has not indicated his position on the Texas law, spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in an email.
“I’m pro life. I welcome pro-life legislation,” DeSantis said at a recent news conference in West Palm Beach.
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GOP legislative leaders ‘already working’ on Texas-style abortion restrictions in Florida
Florida abortions declined steadily from 2010 to 2017 but have since been climbing. Medically induced abortions are also on the rise. Florida’s abortion rate per population was second in the nation in 2018, the last year for which federal data were available.
The Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 prohibits abortions after a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, and does not make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Florida Republicans could also pursue something akin to a Mississippi law that would outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks, Fraim said.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May agreed to hear the Mississippi case this term, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where a conservative majority on the court could undermine or overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade that gave women the constitutional right to abortion in 1973.
Other than moving forward with legislation similar to the Texas law, state lawmakers could hold off until next June when the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the Mississippi case, said Laurie Sobel, associate director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“I expect any state that has a Legislature and a governor that would like to restrict abortion as much as possible will look at Texas as a model or Mississippi,” she said.
Florida lawmakers will have to contend with Republican voters in the state who tend to be more moderate and who support the right to abortion, said Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and the author of “Abortion and the Law in America: A Legal History, Roe v. Wade to the Present.”
She pointed to a Pew Research Center study showing 56% of Floridians in 2014 said abortion should be legal.
A second issue is that the state Constitution’s right to privacy is broad and protects the right to abortion, she said.
“The question will be how much does that matter,” Ziegler said.
Protections for the unborn
A Texas-style law is certain to prove contentious in Florida.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, quickly voiced support for the Texas law and said he’d push for a similar Florida measure.
But the woman set to succeed Simpson next year as leader of the state Senate, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she opposes at least the citizen enforcement portion of the law, which allows people to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the state Legislature has worked every session to strengthen protections for unborn babies, including efforts this past year to protect unborn children with disabilities.
“In Florida, we agree that killing an innocent human being with a beating heart is wrong,” Sprowls said in a statement, adding that he is confident those “who share this moral view” in the Florida House will continue the fight.
Florida Right to Life President Lynda Bell said her organization will support any state legislation that saves the lives of unborn children.
“I’m not 100% sure what they will do,” she said. “I am open to this new heartbeat bill. Civil remedies are a wonderful avenue to save lives.”
The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Texas to block enforcement of the abortion ban earlier this month.
There’s no doubt to John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, a leading pro-life organization, that the current leadership in both houses of the state Legislature would like to see robust protection of the unborn passed. But how that will unfold is uncertain.
“It is unclear at this point what type of bill Florida will pass,” he said in an email.
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Abortion law now in Florida
Florida’s abortion law bans the procedure after 24 weeks except in cases of life or health endangerment, and there are requirements for an ultrasound and counseling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization on sexual and reproductive health.
Health plans offered in the state under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, unless individuals buy coverage at an additional cost, according to Guttmacher.
State law requires abortion providers to have a patient transfer agreement with hospitals, according to the state statute on abortion.
Republican lawmakers in Florida have been chipping away at access to abortion for years, state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said during a Sept. 9 virtual press briefing with other Democratic lawmakers.
In 2015, state lawmakers established a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. The waiting period is not in effect due to an injunction and ongoing legal challenge; a non-jury trial is scheduled for April in Leon County Circuit Court.
DeSantis in 2020 signed into law a parental consent requirement before a minor can obtain an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates will galvanize a generation of women in the state who have grown up with the right to an abortion under Roe, Berman said.
“This generation of women will rise up if you take away access to abortion,” she said.
On Tuesday, state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Democratic lawmakers and about 200 women gathered on the steps of Florida’s old Capitol on Tuesday for a “Bans off My Body” rally to vocalize their opposition to a Texas-style abortion law in
The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates is helping to organize rallies and more are coming, Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Planned Parenthood affiliates, said.
There was a smaller gathering of 20 people at a rally in early September in Gainesville that was designed to be COVID-19 safe, she said. Information can be found on future events at https://womensmarch.com/.
Abortion numbers in Florida
The number of abortions in Florida declined steadily from 2010’s 79,908 abortions to 2017 when there were 69,102 procedures, a 13.5% decrease over seven years, state data show. The number rose in 2018 to 70,239 abortions, then to 71,914 procedures in 2019 and rose again to 74,868 in 2020.
So far this year, 49,358 abortions have been performed as of Sept. 2 in Florida with another 3,014 for non-Florida residents, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. That’s down slightly compared to the same period last year, when 51,304 abortions were performed in Florida counties and another 2,764 procedures were done for non-Florida residents.
The data show 12 rural counties where fewer than 20 abortions may have been performed and are not displayed for patient confidentiality, according to the state agency. In those counties, the abortion numbers were added to the statewide total.
The counties are Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Holmes, Lafayette, Liberty, Union and Washington.
Under Florida statute, abortion providers are required to report their data monthly to the Florida agency.
It’s possible some abortion providers are not reporting all of their numbers to the state, said Bell or Florida Right to Life. Still, she said the numbers are probably fairly accurate.
“But numbers are only as good as the clinics that report them,” Bell said.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops estimated, based on state data, that 72,232 abortions were performed statewide in 2020.
Some private physicians may not always report their numbers because abortion is an office procedure, just like they may not report procedures to remove tissue after miscarriage, Planned Parenthood’s Fraim said.
States are not required to submit their abortion data to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention although most states do including Florida, according to the CDC. Besides the 50 states, the CDC asks for data from the District of Columbia and New York City.
According to the CDC’s annual report for 2018, its most recent available, there were 614,820 abortions in 47 states, the District of Columbia and New York City which have consistently submitted their abortion data annually since 2009.
California, Maryland and New Hampshire have not submitted their data, according to the federal agency.
The abortion rate nationally in 2018 was 11.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.
In Florida in 2018 when 70,239 abortions were performed, the rate was 18.1 per 1,000 women in that age group, according to the CDC.
Florida was second behind New York, which led the nation in 2018 with the most abortions, at 77,447; Texas was third at 55,140, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
From a broader perspective, the number of abortions nationwide decreased 22% from 2009 to 2018, according to the CDC. In 2009, the abortion rate was 14.9 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, the data show.
Use of abortion pill on the rise
Both sides in the abortion debate acknowledge Florida’s seen an uptick in medication-based abortion to terminate pregnancies up to 11 weeks.
Those abortions rose 24% last year compared to 2019, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports research and policies to end abortion.
The institute analyzed data from the state health care agency that showed there were 41,809 medication-based abortions in 2020. That was 56% of the nearly 75,000 total abortions performed that year, according to the institute.
The group also releases study findings it partly funded that analyzed complications caused by the first drug, mifepristone, used in the two-part medication abortion.
From September 2000 to February 2019, the institute said more than 20 women in the U.S. died from complications from medication abortions, 500 women faced life-threatening complications and nearly 2,000 had severe complications.
Bell, of Florida Right to Life, said women take the first dose in a clinical setting but are at home for the latter part of the process and can face bleeding and pain with no supportive care.
Fraim, of Planned Parenthood, said she questions where abortion opponents get their information. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the medication-based procedure, and it is backed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, she said.
“Medical abortion is highly effective and very safe,” Fraim said, adding that the reason it may be gaining in popularity to end early pregnancy is because it’s more convenient for women who can’t take time off from jobs for a surgical abortion.
Is the number of abortion clinics declining?
The state and nonprofit organizations that track abortion data differ in how many abortion providers there are in the U.S. and Florida, which is attributed to clinic consolidations, closures and some abortion providers that may not be included.
Florida’s health care agency says there are 57 abortion clinics statewide this year, but the figure does not include hospitals or physician offices where the procedure may be performed and it is not the primary service offered.
The number of clinics has declined by a couple of sites every year from 72 locations in 2010, according to state data.
The Guttmacher institute said there were 85 facilities that performed abortions in 2017 in Florida, the latest year it has data. The total includes hospitals and physicians’ offices. Of the total, 65 are clinics.
Physicians’ offices are defined as “facilities” when they perform fewer than 400 abortions a year and had names suggesting they were private practices, according to the group.
Physicians’ offices that provided 400 or more abortions a year are categorized as clinics since their caseload suggests services that more closely resemble a clinic, according to the group.
Roughly 73% of Florida counties in 2017 had no clinics that provided the procedure, according to Guttmacher.
Nationwide, the organization said there were 1,587 facilities providing abortions in 2017, a 5% decrease from 1,671 abortion facilities nationwide in 2014.
Guttmacher does not have any data yet beyond 2017, according to Rachel Jones, principal research scientist.
“Our team is working on a new report that should be out next year, but it’s still early on in our data collection and analysis,” Jones said. “We don’t get our facility data from (the state), instead we proactively contact all known facilities. So it’s quite an undertaking.”
The Abortion Care Network, which supports independently operated abortion clinics in the U.S., documented 12 independent clinic closures in Florida from 2015 to 2020. The group’s annual report for this year will be released in December.
The overall number of abortion clinics has dropped, but that should not be interpreted as impacting access, Goodhue, executive director of the state Planned Parenthood affiliates, said.
“A lot of that is consolidation,” she said. “I would not say it’s a big change.”
Planned Parenthood has 20 health centers in Florida with 14 providing abortion care, Fraim said.
Stemberger, of the Florida Family Policy Council, said the number of clinics doing abortions has gone down due to Planned Parenthood closing centers in smaller towns and opening sites in cities where there are larger Black and Latino populations.
“This is in essence targeting and marketing abortions to minority communities which disproportionately kills the unborn children of Blacks and Spanish-speaking communities,” he said.
Bell, with Florida Right to Life, said the state isn’t seeing clinics close as much as other states.
Most new abortion clinics are going into communities with colleges where more young people may seek abortion, she said.
The reason why rural communities lack abortion access is the same reason why there are no Publix stores in rural communities, Bell said: low demand.
How accessible is an abortion in Florida?
While there are regulations in Florida, like the parental consent rule and ultrasound requirement, women are able to get the procedure, according to Robyn Powell, a visiting assistant professor at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.
“Access to abortions is not quite as inaccessible as they in other Republican-led states,” Powell said in an email.
Planned Parenthood staff conduct outreach to help rural women with transportation if they live a distance from a health center, and it helps cover the cost of an abortion for low-income women, Fraim said.
What contributes to hardships for some women is that Florida law prohibits private insurance from covering abortions except for some limited coverage for fetal anomalies, Fraim said. Women can buy pay extra for coverage, but having an abortion is not something anyone anticipates, she said.
“Ninety-five percent of abortion costs come out pocket,” Fraim said.
Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida lists on its website that an abortion costs $550 up to 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida and Central Florida does not list the price on its website because the cost depends on each individual’s case, Fraim said.
“Every abortion is unique. Every patient is different,” she said. “We coordinate with local abortion funds to ensure that patients receive the help they need when they cannot pay for some, or all of the cost of their appointment.”
Bell, with Florida Right to Life, said abortion access is not an issue in the state like it is in other Southern states.
“I think anybody who wants an abortion in Florida can get one,” Bell said. “It’s pretty easy.”
There is considerable migration of women to Florida for abortion from states where the procedure is less accessible, like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, said Goodhue of the Planned Parenthood alliance.
Florida and Texas are two of the most populous states in the South and abortion bans in both states would strain limited abortion availability already in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, she said.
“Florida has significantly more providers than neighboring states because Florida has a stronger right to privacy in (the state) Constitution,” she said.
Amber Gavin, vice president of advocacy and operations at the independently operated A Woman’s Choice in Jacksonville, which has clinics in North Carolina, said her staff sees how policies in other states harm and restrict abortion access.
Florida doesn’t have a mandatory waiting period like other states and allows people to schedule an appointment the same day, and that reduces trips to the clinic and having to take time off work, she said.
“When someone decides to end or continue a pregnancy, it is essential they have access to safe medical care, free from fear and the policing of our bodies,” she said in an email.
Even if Roe is overturned or weakened, abortion will remain legal in Florida as the state’s highest court has recognized the right to an abortion under the state Constitution, Gavin said.
“However, we know that legality alone has never been enough to secure real access to abortion care, as politicians have consistently implemented policies rooted in systemic racism, pushing abortion care out of reach for those struggling financially, young people, LGBTQ people, Black, indigenous, and people of color,” she said in a statement.
USA TODAY Network-Florida Capital Bureau reporter John Kennedy and Gainesville Sun reporter Danielle Ivanov contributed to this report.