Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Anna V. Eskamani joined a group of doctors Wednesday for a news conference speaking against a proposed 15-week abortion ban in Florida.
The conference coincided with the release of a letter signed by 450 doctors and health care professionals from around the state who oppose the ban on the grounds that it creates an arbitrary timeline that ignores science and dramatically reduces abortion access. The group was joined by other members of the Legislature’s Democratic caucus before heading to the Senate Committee on Health Policy to testify against the bill (SB 146).
The bill, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, would ban abortions after 15 weeks, around the time the first trimester ends. The 15-week timeline would begin on the first day of a person’s last menstrual period. Last month, Stargel said she chose the 15-week time period because that’s when people begin to have gender-reveal parties and go public with pregnancies. She said her bill wouldn’t eliminate abortion rights.
“I don’t believe that it does that at all,” Stargel said. “That woman has every opportunity within that first trimester to make the decision based on whatever criteria she sets for herself and deciding whether or not she wants to continue her pregnancy or whether she doesn’t.”
But most doctors and abortion providers have said abortion access should last to the point of viability, when a fetus could survive outside the womb. Current Florida law prohibits abortion in the third trimester, or after viability.
Dr. Sujatha Prabhakaran, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said pregnancies are too unique to be limited by flippant, unscientific deadlines.
“Patients seeking care beyond 15 weeks are often in some of the most difficult circumstances, either because of serious health complications for the pregnant person, severe fetal anomalies, or because of harsh life circumstances,” Prabhakaran said. “This legislation ignores those real-life situations and puts medical decisions in the hands of politicians. That is simply wrong.”
And Kelly Flynn, president and CEO of A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, said she worked with a 30-year-old mother of three who had to get an abortion after 15 weeks due at least, in part, to the logistical challenges she and her husband faced.
“It took Brittany and her husband weeks to find the money for the procedure, time off from work, child care, transportation and more,” Flynn said. “This bill has a personal impact on Floridians, whether our legislators know them personally or not. Spending time legislating bans on abortion care is a betrayal by our Legislature, a governing body that should be working to protect Floridians, not taking away their health care.”
Berman said the ban would create dangerous conditions for a parent seeking an abortion. Most abortion bans lead to increased rates of maternal morbidity and mortality. Berman also warned against the bill being potentially unconstitutional. Florida’s proposed ban is similar to a constitutionality challenged Mississippi law being reviewed by the Supreme Court. The court’s decision in the case could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
“Abortion is health care. This proposal and the many other permutations attempting to restrict a woman’s right to choose that have passed this Legislature in my tenure — and far beyond — are dangerous, incomprehensible and unconstitutional for women all over our state,” Berman said. “Basic family planning continues to be threatened by Republicans merely trying to please their base. We must stand firm, remain fierce and hold steadfast in these challenges. Get angry, get loud. Defend Roe v. Wade.”
Eskamani added, “Important medical decisions, including whether to have an abortion, should be left to the patient, their family and their doctor — not politicians.”
SB 146 passed the committee favorably with a 6-4 party-line vote.