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Florida's 6-week abortion ban will have nationwide impact, critics warn

Caroline Catherman, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

“I’m thrilled that after 35 years of work, the court has clarified that Florida’s privacy right has nothing to do with abortion,” he said.

But others expressed concerns about women’s safety.

For one, shuttered Florida clinics and increased demand could create a backlog that stretches across several U.S. states, said Serra Sippel, interim executive director of the Brigid Alliance, a national network assisting people who need to travel for abortion.

“As more people need to travel, we’ll also see clinics scheduling appointments well into the future to meet the demand. So this means people seeking abortions may be forced to delay their procedures and carry their pregnancies further into term, which can be mean risking their health,” she said.

Concerns about vagueness

Dr. Rachel Humphrey, a Central Florida OBGYN specializing in high-risk pregnancies, said she’s concerned the six-week ban’s exceptions are too vague.

Both the current ban and the six-week ban offer exceptions to save the mother from severe harm or death, regardless of how far along the pregnancy is, as well as exceptions for “fatal fetal abnormalities.” The bill has nonclinical language that Humphrey said leaves medical providers confused as to what qualifies. The six-week ban also offers exceptions for rape, incest or trafficking up to 15 weeks.

“We have had multiple cases where I and other physicians involved knew that continuing the pregnancy was dangerous for the mother,” Humphrey said. “And yet not dangerous enough that we felt it met the criteria that the politicians determined.”

One example up for debate is when someone’s water breaks preterm, which can cause an incomplete miscarriage.


“We literally have to wait for the mom either to complete the miscarriage process, or for her to get really sick while waiting before you can give her medicines to help her. And that’s the reality of what we’re dealing with right now, even before the six-week ban,” Humphrey said.

But not all doctors agree. Dr. William Lile, a North Florida OBGYN, said the law is clear about what constitutes an exception. If doctors are delaying care in a way that endangers the mother, they are misinterpreting the law, he said.

“The biggest problem is ignorance about what the law actually says,” Lile said. “When the mother’s physical health is threatened, they can perform that procedure with or without a heartbeat. They don’t have to wait until the mom is in the critical stages in the ICU and might even have a uterine infection and might even have a loss of her uterus. They can respond and treat the mom appropriately when they feel the mother’s life and physical health is threatened.”

The law states exceptions are allowed when “two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life or avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”

If another physician is not available, only one physician is required.

“When we actually looked at the law, we were like, ‘this isn’t going to change the way we practice medicine at all. If we can say, ‘this mother broke her bag of water, she’s at risk for having a life-threatening infection, and that would cause her further harm,’ there’s absolutely no delay per the law,” Lile said.


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