Protest held in Tampa, Florida after Roe v. Wade was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2022. Photo: Jack Wallace
On April 14, the Florida state legislature passed one of the most strict abortion bans in the country, which outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The same day, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis quietly, with little fanfare and a private ceremony, signed the bill into law.
Florida is following in the footsteps of many US states in passing laws to restrict or ban abortion after the downfall of Roe v. Wade last year. A six week ban is considered especially absurd by medical professionals, as one in three women don’t even learn they’re pregnant until after six weeks.
DeSantis has made a spectacle out of signing bills to take away the rights of different oppressed groups many times before. Some are speculating that the reason the usually proudly bigoted governor was so sneaky about this latest bill is that the country has shown over and over again that most people support abortion rights. A majority of people in the US believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Nearly two-thirds of people are against laws that ban abortion around when a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which is around six weeks. Everytime abortion has been on the ballot for a popular vote in the US in the past few years, the people have voted to uphold a woman’s right to choose. DeSantis, who has presidential ambitions, is now worried that his attacks on abortion rights could cost him his political career.
In the US, those who oppose abortion rights consider themselves as part of the “pro-life” movement, as they believe that abortion is a form of murder. But over and over, restrictions on abortion rights have proven deadly for women.
The six week ban has been signed into law, but will only take effect if the present 15 week ban, which has been paused due to a legal challenge, is upheld in the state Supreme Court. It is predicted that it will be upheld as Florida’s Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives. However, the 15 week ban was in effect when two Black women, Anya Cook and Shanae Smith-Cunningham, were denied treatment for pregnancy complications back in December of 2022, as chronicled by the Washington Post.
In Cook’s case, she rushed to the emergency room when her water broke prematurely after nearly six weeks of pregnancy. She was experiencing a potentially life-threatening condition, pre-viability preterm prelabor rupture of the membranes (PPROM). However, at the hospital she was told that the doctor could not induce an abortion due to the 15 week ban in the state, even though this is the typical treatment for PPROM. She was told to leave, offered antibiotics, and a nurse ominously told her that she would “pray for her”.
The next day, Cook had a miscarriage in the bathroom of a hair salon. She was rushed to the hospital, lost half the blood in her body throughout the day, and almost died on the operating table. She made it out of the experience alive, but will have to undergo her second surgery to remove remaining pieces of the pregnancy from her body, and her chances of ever having children have become slimmer. Doctors say that Cook’s experience would have been far less life-threatening had an abortion been induced the first time she went to the hospital.
Smith-Cunningham had a similar experience, though fortunately less severe. She experienced PPROM while abroad in Jamaica, and flew back to Florida to receive medical care, only to be denied care due to the abortion ban multiple times. She later suffered a miscarriage, though not as traumatic as Cook’s.
There are sure to be more stories like Cook and Smith-Cunningham’s in Florida. The language of abortion bans reflects extremely poor knowledge of women’s health by old lawmakers, causing doctors to be overcautious even when there are exceptions to account for dangers to a mother’s life. Florida’s 15 week ban includes an exception for a “fatal fetal anomaly,” which doctors say is not present with PPROM. The other exceptions to the abortion ban, such as to “save the pregnant woman’s life” or to “avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function,” are exceedingly vague. Clearly, many doctors prefer to not take the legal risk.
Jenna, a resident of Tampa, experienced an ectopic pregnancy before Roe v. Wade was overturned. She was able to have an abortion, which is what prevented her from going into shock, she told Peoples Dispatch. Jenna was using an IUD at the time, one of the most reliable methods of birth control available. Because pregnancies are exceedingly rare with an IUD, Jenna was not expecting to get pregnant and was not regularly testing for pregnancy. She estimates that she was nine or ten weeks pregnant when she got an abortion.
Republican lawmakers have defended their bans in Florida. Florida State Senator Erin Grall, when pressed about Smith-Cunningham and Cook’s experience, claimed that doctors who refuse to perform abortions on women experiencing risky pregnancies are playing “games and politics.”
“If the mother is going to develop something in which will threaten her life because of the pregnancy, then they would be able to take the child,” he said.
Even though many abortion bans have exceptions accounting for rape, incest, or threats to the life of the mother, Jenna said, “when you have to go through all of these hoops, it really delays getting the care that you need. If my care had gotten delayed, it’s completely possible I would have gone into shock.”
In 18 states with abortion bans before fetal viability, doctors have been turning away mothers who are suffering from PPROM. This has been happening with deadly consequences—according to a student, 57% of pre-viability PPROM patients in Texas who were not given the option to have an abortion “experienced a serious maternal morbidity,” as opposed to 33% of those who did have an abortion.
“DeSantis and the right wing are fully aware of the consequences of restricting abortion access like this,” Tampa resident and local activist Karla Correa told Peoples Dispatch. “They know that it will disproportionately impact Black and Brown women. They know that women will die because of this. They know that this will send many women into motherhood when they are not ready. But that’s just it. They don’t care.” Less than one third of states with abortion bans opted into expanded public healthcare coverage offered in Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan.