Lawmakers Advance Second Trimester Abortion Restrictions Despite Legal Concerns

Feb 8, 2018
Originally published on February 7, 2018 5:45 pm

Florida lawmakers want to restrict certain abortions for women in their second trimester. Judges in other states have struck down similar laws as unconstitutional. But legal concerns are not slowing the bill down. A warning, this story may be distressing to some.

The vast majority of women who have abortions do it early, in the first trimester. About 10% wait until the second trimester, after 13 weeks or so. For many, that’s because certain developmental issues can’t be detected until 20 weeks. Women whose fetuses have little chance of survival outside the womb then have to make really hard decisions. Others wait because the procedures are expensive and can require days of travel.

Now state lawmakers want to limit the second trimester abortion procedure that many women rely on. Republican Representative Erin Grall of Vero Beach is targeting dilation and evacuation or D&E abortions.

“Dilation and evacuation is the most commonly performed second trimester abortion procedure, accounting for approximately 96% of all second trimester abortions,” Grall said.

The reason D&E abortions are the most common is because it’s the safest option women have. But Grall believes the procedure itself is inhumane. Doctors start by dilating the cervix, and then removing the fetus with suction or with forceps. A warning, the following description of the procedure is pretty graphic.

“When forceps are used, the physician grips the fetus and pulls until a portion of the fetus breaks free. This could be a leg, an arm, or another body part," Grall said. "The physician continues removing the fetus piece by piece until the fetus has been completely removed and the woman’s uterus has been evacuated.”

Grall wants to make sure fetuses aren’t alive when this happens. Her bill would require doctors to stop their hearts with an injection. There are some exceptions for women whose life is at risk. But otherwise, doctors could face criminal charges.

“Any person who willfully performs or actively participates in a termination of pregnancy in violation of the requirements of this section or [Florida Statutes] 390.01112 commits a felony of the third degree,” Grall said.

Lawmakers were visibly uncomfortable listening to Grall’s descriptions. And retired obstetrician Ethelene Jones says her characterizations are fair. But Jones says a detailed description of any surgical procedure can be shocking. She stands by the process and says she’s seen the alternative.

“I have witnessed firsthand the desperation of women who terminate their pregnancies when abortion was illegal. I’ve seen the deaths that have occurred. I’ve seen the mutilations that have occurred. I’ve seen the children left behind because their mother died in an attempt at an abortion," Jones said. "And so I am opposed to regulating a woman’s right to choose.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says E&D abortions are the safest option women have in the second trimester. The group is the country’s leading professional organization for OBGYNs. But Jones argues the bill would change this procedure. She says the injections to stop the heart could lead to complications.  

“First that the pregnancy continues. Second that there are complications as far as the mother in the course of attempting the injection,” Jones said. “Inject it directly into the heart of the fetus and you kill the fetus. Pick it up into the maternal circulation and a woman who already has some existing heart compromise can be dangerous.”

For Jones, the health and safety of the woman is the end all be all. But Democratic lawmakers are worried about constitutionality too. Judges have blocked similar laws in six other states. Dania Beach Democratic Representative Joe Geller says the same thing would happen in Florida.

“Members this is not going to result in changing existing practices because we have an independent judiciary and a rule of law that protects the constitutional rights, yes even of women, in our society,” Geller said.

Republican lawmakers call this is a moral issue, comparing the process to an execution, and calling abortion doctors monsters. They say pouring tax dollars into a legal fight would be money well spent. If the bill makes it that far, the American Civil Liberties Union would likely challenge it, says lawyer Kara Gross.

“The ACLU will definitely explore all legal options if this were to pass,” Gross said. “Florida’s constitution has a greater privacy protection right than other state constitutions and the federal constitution. So if this bill were passed here it is very likely that it would, will of course be challenged and be found unconstitutional just like it has in the other states that have this law.”

The measure has one more committee stop in the House. But Senate lawmakers still haven’t taken up the companion bill.

Copyright 2018 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.