The landscape for ending pregnancy in Florida could change dramatically as the abortion battle intensifies.
Abortion rights advocates are mobilizing supporters to fight legislation anticipated from the Republican-controlled state Legislature to adopt an abortion ban similar to Texas's new law. The state Legislative session starts Jan. 11.
“Right now in Florida, the access is reasonable,” said Stephanie Fraim, chief executive officer and president of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Florida and Central Florida. But she said, “There is no doubt the Florida Legislature and (Gov. Ron) DeSantis will make a hard run for a Texas-style law.”
DeSantis has not indicated if legislation similar to Texas's will be on the table, spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in an email.
"I'm pro life. I welcome pro-life legislation," DeSantis said at a news conference in West Palm Beach. "What they did in Texas was interesting, but I haven't really been able to look at enough about it."
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GOP legislative leaders 'already working' on Texas-style abortion restrictions in Florida
Florida abortions declined steadily from 2010 to 2017, but have since been climbing. Medically induced abortions are also on the rise. Florida’s abortion rate per population was second in the nation in 2018, the last year for which federal data were available.
The Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 prohibits abortions after a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, and does not make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Florida Republicans could also pursue something akin to a Mississippi law that would outlaw most abortions after 15 weeks, Fraim said.
The U.S. Supreme Court in May agreed to hear the Mississippi case this term, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where a conservative majority on the court could undermine or overrule the landmark Roe v. Wade that gave women the constitutional right to abortion in 1973.
Florida's Legislature could copy the Texas law or wait until next June when the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the Mississippi case, said Laurie Sobel, associate director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"I expect any state that has a Legislature and a governor that would like to restrict abortion as much as possible will look at Texas as a model or Mississippi," she said.
That is likely yet Florida lawmakers will have to contend with Republican voters in the state who tend to be more moderate and who support the right to abortion, said Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law and the author of “Abortion and the Law in America: A Legal History, Roe v. Wade to the Present.”
She pointed to a Pew Research Center study showing 56% of Floridians in 2014 said abortion should be legal.
A second issue is that the state Constitution's right to privacy is broad and protects the right to abortion, she said.
"The question will be how much does that matter," Ziegler said. "I definitely think there will be a bill. I just don't know what it will look like."
Protections for the unborn
A Texas-style law is certain to prove contentious in Florida.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, quickly voiced support for the Texas law and said he'd push for a similar Florida measure.
But the woman set to succeed Simpson next year as leader of the state Senate, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she opposes at least the citizen enforcement portion of the law, which allows people to sue anyone who performs an abortion or "aids and abets" a procedure.
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the state Legislature has worked every session to strengthen protections for unborn babies, including efforts this past year to protect unborn children with disabilities.
"In Florida, we agree that killing an innocent human being with a beating heart is wrong," Sprowls said in a statement, adding that he is confident those "who share this moral view" in the Florida House will continue the fight.
Florida Right to Life President Lynda Bell said her organization will support any state legislation that saves the lives of unborn children.
“I’m not 100% sure what they will do,” she said. “I am open to this new heartbeat bill. Civil remedies are a wonderful avenue to save lives.”
The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Texas to block enforcement of the abortion ban earlier this month.
There's no doubt to John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, a leading pro-life organization, that the current leadership in both houses of the state Legislature would like to see robust protection of the unborn passed. But how that will unfold is uncertain.
"It is unclear at this point what type of bill Florida will pass," he said in an email.
Abortion law now in Florida
Florida's abortion law bans the procedure after 24 weeks except in cases of life or health endangerment, and there are requirements for an ultrasound and counseling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization on sexual and reproductive health.
Health plans offered in the state under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, unless individuals buy coverage at an additional cost, according to Guttmacher.
State law requires abortion providers to have a patient transfer agreement with hospitals, according to the state statute on abortion.
Republican lawmakers in Florida have been chipping away at access to abortion for years, state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, said during a Sept. 9 virtual press briefing with other Democratic lawmakers.
In 2015, state lawmakers established a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. The waiting period is not in effect due to an injunction and ongoing legal challenge; a non-jury trial is scheduled for April in Leon County Circuit Court.
DeSantis in 2020 signed into law a parental consent requirement before a minor can obtain an abortion.
Abortion rights advocates will galvanize a generation of women in the state who have grown up with the right to an abortion under Roe, Berman said.
“This generation of women will rise up if you take away access to abortion,” she said.
The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates held rallies earlier this month in Gainesville, Spring Hill and Doral to oppose a Texas-style abortion ban in Florida and more are coming, Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Planned Parenthood affiliates, said.
Abortion numbers in Florida
The number of abortions in Florida declined steadily from 2010's 79,908 abortions to 2017 when there were 69,102 procedures, a 13.5% decrease over seven years, state data show. The number rose in 2018 to 70,239 abortions, then to 71,914 procedures in 2019 and rose again to 74,868 in 2020.
So far this year, 49,358 abortions have been performed as of Sept. 2 in Florida with another 3,014 for non-Florida residents, according to the state Agency for Health Care Administration. That's down slightly compared to the same period last year, when 51,304 abortions were performed in Florida counties and another 2,764 procedures were done for non-Florida residents.
The data show 12 rural counties where fewer than 20 abortions may have been performed and are not displayed for patient confidentiality, according to the state agency. In those counties, the abortion numbers were added to the statewide total.
The counties are Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Holmes, Lafayette, Liberty, Union and Washington.
Under Florida statute, abortion providers are required to report their data monthly to the Florida agency.
It's possible some abortion providers are not reporting all of their numbers to the state, said Bell or Florida Right to Life. Still, she said the numbers are probably fairly accurate.
"But numbers are only as good as the clinics that report them," Bell said.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops estimated, based on state data, that 72,232 abortions were performed statewide in 2020.
Some private physicians may not always report their numbers because abortion is an office procedure, just like they may not report procedures to remove tissue after miscarriage, Planned Parenthood's Fraim said.
States are not required to submit their abortion data to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention although most states do including Florida, according to the CDC. Besides the 50 states, the CDC asks for data from the District of Columbia and New York City.
According to the CDC's annual report for 2018, its most recent available, there were 614,820 abortions in 47 states, the District of Columbia and New York City which have consistently submitted their abortion data annually since 2009.
California, Maryland and New Hampshire have not submitted their data, according to the federal agency.
The abortion rate nationally in 2018 was 11.3 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.
In Florida in 2018 when 70,239 abortions were performed, the rate was 18.1 per 1,000 women in that age group, according to the CDC.
Florida was second behind New York, which led the nation in 2018 with the most abortions, at 77,447; Texas was third at 55,140, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
From a broader perspective, the number of abortions nationwide decreased 22% from 2009 to 2018, according to the CDC. In 2009, the abortion rate was 14.9 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, the data show.
USA TODAY Network-Florida Capital Bureau reporter John Kennedy and Gainesville Sun reporter Danielle Ivanov contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Florida abortion law: Democrats vow to defend against Texas-style ban