Julie Hauserman, Laura Goodhue: Florida's legislative leaders don't trust women

Once again, the leadership of the Florida Legislature has decided to play politics with women’s health.

Case in point, the “mandatory abortion delay” bill. If this bill becomes law, even when a woman has already received state-mandated counseling and made a deliberate and fully informed decision, she will still be forced to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. This serves only to further a political agenda at the expense of women’s health.

Mandatory waiting periods place a heavy burden on women by delaying time-sensitive medical care and requiring multiple trips to the doctor for no medical reason. It may require providers to withhold care, even if doing so violates their medical judgment.

Advocates for reproductive rights have vocally opposed this bill as it moved through the legislative process but have supported an amendment to at least allow an exception for survivors of rape, incest, domestic abuse and human trafficking. The amendment was repeatedly voted down in committees in both chambers.

This week the impasse finally broke, but with a change to the original amendment that forces women to provide proof they were raped or prove in writing they are victims of incest. This is a huge step backwards and is another example of how this bill attempts to shame women. Conditioning a woman’s access to prompt medical care on whether she has made a report to the police further stigmatizes and traumatizes victims.

For a woman to have a medical record proving she was raped, she would have had to see her healthcare provider shortly after the incident. Just because she did not seek medical attention does not make a woman’s experience any less legitimate and traumatizing. While any exception to the requirements of the original mandatory abortion delay bill is a symbolic step in the right direction, this measure would further traumatize rape survivors, whom research shows may not seek medical care or report incidents due to fear, stigma and other barriers.

In fact, 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. What’s worse, even when a crime is reported, it is unlikely to lead to an arrest and prosecution. Out of every 100 instances of rape, only seven lead to an arrest and only three are referred to prosecutors.  In one study, 92 percent of women who were physically abused by their partners did not discuss these incidents with their physicians.

Good medical practice demands that a woman and her doctor decide together on treatment and timing of care based on the specific needs of each patient. This bill could put abortion out of reach for some women, especially low-income or rural women, who may be unable to afford transportation, childcare, and additional time off work in order to make multiple trips to the doctor. This is profoundly unfair to these already underserved patients. And this amendment does not make the situation any easier.

The Florida Legislature should support medically appropriate and scientifically based healthcare policies, not introduce legislation with the intention of shaming, coercing or judging a woman. As state Sen. Jeff Clemens said when debating the bill, “I don’t believe in waiting 24 hours to trust women. I trust them today.”

Julie Hauserman is president of the Progress Florida board of directors. Laura Goodhue is the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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