Q&A – About Florida’s New Abortion Laws

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Q&A – About Florida’s New Abortion Laws  

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.       

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com      

Social: @brianmuddradio     

iHeartRadio: Use the Talkback feature – the microphone button on our station’s page in the iHeart app.        

Today’s Entry: Brian, thankful for always thoughtfully explaining what’s going on in the news. On that note, can you please explain what’s happening with Florida’s abortion policy? I’ve come to understand that a 15-week limit is in place now and that soon a 6-week limit will happen because of laws passed by the legislature. But I don’t understand why the 6-week law wouldn’t just automatically go into effect. What’s the point in doing that? Also, can you explain the “fetal viability” proposal that will be on November’s ballot? 

Bottom Line: You’re not alone in wondering what’s going on with Florida’s abortion policy as there are multiple moving pieces to it all in real-time. The Florida Supreme Court issued two opinions on the issue of abortion on Monday that will soon allow for the state’s previously passed abortion law to take effect, while also allowing for an abortion amendment to be decided by voters in November. Much of the confusion with Florida’s abortion policy came into play last year when the Florida legislature passed the second abortion law in two years – the Heartbeat Protection Act, limiting abortions to six weeks with exceptions. I’ll start there with the explanation of what’s going on and how we got here.  

In the spring of 2022 in anticipation of the United States Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade, the Florida legislature passed, and Governor DeSantis signed into law, the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality bill. Included in the legislation was the 15-week limit on abortions with limited exceptions. Shortly after its passage, but prior to the law taking effect, a lawsuit led by Planned Parenthood was filed attempting to block the law. A stay of the new law wasn’t granted and, as a result, it took effect July 1st of 2022. That law has remained the legal abortion policy in Florida since that date. However, the lawsuit seeking to overturn the law advanced in the legal system and in January of 2023 the Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. That takes us to Florida’s six-week abortion law. 

In advance of the Florida Supreme Court having ruled on the 15-week abortion limit law, Florida’s legislature passed the Pregnancy and Parenting Support bill, aka, the Heartbeat Protection Act, limiting abortions to six weeks with exceptions. The bill was signed into law by Governor DeSantis last April. Due to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to hear the legal challenge to Florida’s previous year’s abortion law – the newly created policy was stayed from taking effect. That takes us to what happened Monday. Had the state Supreme Court ruled against Florida’s law limiting abortions to 15-weeks, both the 15-week standard and last year’s 6-week limit would have been thrown out. Once the Supreme Court ruled the 15-week limit was constitutional, under Florida law, the stayed law – the six-week limit, can go into effect 30-days following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case, which is May 1st. And now we’re up to your final question which is about the proposed constitutional amendment that the Florida Supreme Court greenlighted for November’s ballots.  

The proposed constitutional amendment entitled: Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion will feature this ballot summary for voters to consider:    

  • No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.   

The specific question asked pertains to what “viability” means. You’re not the only one who has a question about what that means. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has stated this about the question of viability: The sponsor has gone so far attempting to deceive Floridians as to not post any information on its website on what it means by viability and when the right to abortion, which it is attempting to enshrine in our Constitution, ends. ... While I personally would not vote for this initiative no matter what definition of 'viability' it was using, I know that to some voters, it is material to their vote – whether you are talking about an abortion in the first trimester or at the end of the second trimester.  

The way the proposal is written, if it were to be enacted by voters, would extend legal abortions beyond the previous Roe standard of 20 weeks in Florida. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, it is possible for 10% of fetuses to live outside the womb at 23 weeks, with 50% able to survive at 24 weeks and most fetuses surviving beyond 25 weeks. Those would be the timelines that would come into focus if this proposal is approved in November. But to AG Moody’s point, there’s no fixed timeline. And who’s the arbiter of deciding viability? A doctor. But here’s a question, really the question, given that there’s subjectivity in the “viability” diagnosis. What’s an abortion doctor likely to decide generally? It’s through that subjectivity that the proposed amendment, if passed, holds open the potential for nearly limitless abortions within the state. That’s a topic I’ll address at a later date in my Florida Amendment Series this year in the leadup to Election Day.  

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