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With abortion laws in flux, we clear up some confusion in Florida and across the country

 Anna Eskamani speaks along with faith leaders of Florida Monday (4/17/23) afternoon during a joint reproductive freedom press conference in Tallahassee.
Anna Eskamani
Democrat state Rep. Anna Eskamani joined faith leaders of Florida Monday protesting after the governor's signing of the Heartbeat Protection Act.

Florida's abortion legal landscape is getting a shakeup from the six-week ban being signed into law to drugs possibly taken from clinics.

Across the country, the landscape for abortions is changing. No place is that statement more clear than in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly signed into law a six-week ban last week as a Texas federal judge’s decision to possibly outlaw an abortion pill is under review.

On Monday, Orlando Democrat state Rep. Anna Eskamani joined faith leaders of Florida protesting four days after the governor's signing of the Heartbeat Protection Act, which puts in place a six-week ban on abortions with exceptions.

"We have made the point many times on the House floor and the Senate decisions around one's pregnancy are personal. When you decide to become a parent and raise that child or you decide adoption is the best option or decide to end that pregnancy that must be a decision made by you, your family, your doctor and your god, and not politicians," Eskamani said.

Days after passing in the Florida Senate, the legislation passed the Republican-held supermajority House on Thursday. Six hours later, DeSantis signed the bill into law. The speed of the legislation has opponents caught in a tailspin, but supporters celebrated alongside DeSantis as he signed the bill an hour before the one-year anniversary of his signing of a 15-week ban that has no exemptions.

Despite the swift actions of turning the bill into law, Florida’s abortion legal landscape is in flux.

A state of legal flux

The Florida Supreme Court is reviewing the 15-week ban after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging its legality. The court will examine whether abortion is protected under Florida’s constitution due to a privacy clause, said Denise Cespedes, a legal research instructor at Florida A&M University College of Law.

“That six-week ban can be upheld is really going to be contingent on the outcome of the already ongoing legal battle over the 15-week ban," Cespedes said. “And underneath that umbrella, the right to privacy, to what extent it can be restricted.”

If the court rules favorably, the six-week ban will begin 30 days after. However, the ruling against the right to privacy could trigger state lawmakers to seek another outcome.

“Now, we're talking about the exclusion of this right entirely and an outright ban in the state of Florida,” Cespedes said.

Currently, there is no language in the Heartbeat Protection Act that would trigger an outright ban, but an overturning of the privacy provision in Florida's constitution would uproot decades of precedent and open the door for a total abortion ban in the state, Cespedes said.

"That would be pretty extreme, but I don't know, right? It's like you can't say until this happens because some of that reliance on decades-old case law now seems to be in jeopardy," she said. "So much is hanging on how this current makeup of the court interprets this right."

The privacy provision was first voted into the state constitution in 1980, insuring "every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into his private life except as otherwise provided herein."

That right was challenged and reinforced in 1989 in a case known as In Re T.W., where a pregnant minor tried to petition for a waiver of parental consent under a judicial bypass provision to obtain an abortion. However, the court found that it was unable to grant a waiver because it would've meant intruding upon the privacy of the pregnant minor from contraception to birth.

Abortion meds on a cliffhanger

Federal courts are looking into another change to abortion laws. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas ruled that the Food and Drug Administration improperly approved the abortion pill mifepristone more than 20 years ago.

His decision could remove the drug from Florida clinics and those across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court put that decision on hold Friday by temporarily blocking Kacsmaryk's decision until Wednesday night.

Drug-induced abortions make up 57% of Florida procedures, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"That means then for various reasons, women are saying I'm early, I'm going to opt for this medical abortion, maybe for privacy reasons they want to do that," Cespedes said.

Mifepristone is part of a two-pill procedure with Misoprotosol. If Mifepristone is pulled, medicinal abortions would still be possible with Misoprotosol, but it’s slightly less effective and comes with more side effects.

"I don't foresee that this is necessarily going to eliminate access to medical abortion in states where abortion is still legal, like Florida. But it does hinder how it might impact a woman deciding should I do it or not?" Cespedes said. "Because the increased side effects may be a deterrent for some women in and of itself."

Confusion at the clinics

The legal battles are still playing out but they’re already having impacts on clinic, said Stephanie Loraine Piñeiro, the executive director of the Access Florida Network.

“People are confused. People are unsure whether abortion is still legal or not. And that's on purpose,” Piñeiro said. "They want folks to be discouraged from getting abortions, they want folks to be ashamed of getting abortions, they want folks to be so confused that they don't bother, but they remain pregnant against their will. And that's not health care."

Access Florida clinics are receiving dozens of calls from people unclear about what is legal, Piñeiro said. Clinic employees said the confusion is tying up clinic resources and causing some women to not come in at all.

“It is also an opportunity for people to experience abortion stigma, receiving abortion misinformation and seeing things that are false about abortion being unsafe,” Piñeiro said.

Piñeiro is worried that the changing landscape of abortions will continuously diminish the amount of patients clinics will be able to see. Recently, she spoke with a clinic about the number of patients it receives on its busiest day: Saturday.

"They saw 24 clients that day. And if the six-week abortion ban had been in effect, they would only have been able to see one client that day," Piñeiro said.

Florida’s legal landscape continues to shake with changes, and the dust of which will not settle until two different judicial decisions are reached.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

Joe Mario Pedersen