FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A generation ago, women desperate for abortion might have used a coat hanger, but in contemporary Florida, they are likely to turn to pills.
Pills that induce cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus — known as medication abortion — are legal in the state up until the 11th week of pregnancy.
But now that Florida has banned abortion after 15 weeks, women who want to end a pregnancy in their second trimester and don’t have the resources to travel may turn to these medications long past the time they are considered safe.
“There are a lot of risks in taking the pills when you are far along,” said Dr. Daniel Sacks, an OB-GYN in West Palm Beach. “Women could run into all kinds of complications from a pregnancy that fails to abort completely.”
Whether through medication or surgical abortion, about 2,700 women this year have legally terminated their pregnancies in Florida during the second trimester. That option no longer exists in the state as of July 1. Florida’s new abortion law bans abortion after 15 weeks with exceptions only to save a woman’s life or if an abnormality of a fetus is fatal.
Sacks said women in the second trimester easily can become desperate for options. That’s when they learn of serious genetic or physical abnormalities in the fetus — diagnoses such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, cardiac defects or missing body parts. “These are abnormalities that are not deadly but they are devastating.”
Using medication to induce an abortion has become an increasingly popular option in early pregnancy. In 2020, 54% of abortions in the U.S. were done with pills and less than 1% of women reported having significant complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
In Florida, only licensed physicians can prescribe the two-part treatment: The first pill — mifepristone — has to be taken in person in a clinic or hospital, and the second medication — misoprostol — can be taken at home. Most clinics require that patients schedule a follow-up appointment two weeks later to ensure the abortion is complete.
During the pandemic, the FDA changed some of its regulations to allow abortion pills to be prescribed via telehealth appointments and sent in the mail. So now, women can access them privately from home, with a credit card and their smartphones.
Regardless of that ease, Floridians are not able to get the pills that way. Florida law doesn’t ban telehealth prescriptions outright, however, the requirement of a face-to-face meeting with a doctor to get a prescription means that method isn’t an option.