A protester holds a sign at the Miami Women's March in 2017.
A protester holds a sign at the Miami Women's March in 2017.
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

Florida's Abortion Waiting Period Struck Down, but GOP Files New Anti-Abortion Bill

Late yesterday afternoon, a Tallahassee judge permanently blocked Florida from forcing women seeking abortions to undergo a useless, 24-hour waiting period before ending their pregnancies. That move seemed to deal a blow to one of the most significant women's rights proposals passed by the frighteningly conservative Florida Legislature in recent years.

But the decision came the same day two Florida lawmakers filed a new, devious plan to recast an extremely common abortion procedure as an act of "dismemberment" in an attempt to ban it.

The World Health Organization endorses what are known as "dilation and evacuation" abortions for pregnancies terminated after the first trimester — AKA the first 12 weeks — of gestation. The majority of women prefer so-called D&E abortions after 12 weeks because the procedure, which involves dilating the cervix with surgical tools and removing the fetal and placental tissue, because it's an outpatient procedure that takes roughly 30 minutes.

But an increasingly large group of anti-abortion state lawmakers has decided to instead unscientifically label D&E abortions "dismemberment abortions" in an effort to freak out the public and ban the procedure. After alleged "dismemberment" bans were proposed elsewhere, lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate proposed their own "dismemberment abortion" bans yesterday. It is what reproductive-rights advocates have called the latest tactic in the fight to end women's ability to safely terminate their pregnancies.

Pro-choice advocates speaking with ThinkProgress in 2015 warned that "dismemberment abortion" bills are designed to terrify the public by including long paragraphs describing gruesome slicing, cutting, and crushing of fetuses, something that doctors who perform abortions say completely misrepresents the procedure.

Florida's bills don't disappoint:

“Dismemberment abortion” means an abortion in which a person, with the purpose of causing the death of a fetus, dismembers the living fetus and extracts it one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or a similar instrument that, through the convergence of two rigid levers, slices, crushes, or grasps, or performs any combination of those actions on, a piece of the fetus’s body to cut or rip the piece from the body. The term does not include an abortion that exclusively uses suction to dismember the body of a fetus by sucking pieces of the body into a collection container.

That's basically one big paragraph that says "cutting a fetus out of a body." You could terrify someone who's never heard of a liver transplant by describing the process as "slicing, grasping, or pulling a liver out of a body using forceps, tongs, scissors, or a similar instrument that forcibly rips, tears, or otherwise severs the organ from the body cavity." See how that works?

In fact, doctors told ThinkProgress two years ago that the exact paragraph above is so vague it's actually difficult to tell what would be legal. Pro-choice advocates have compared the technique used to drum up fear about "dismemberment abortion" bans to the method used in the 1990s that turned "intact dilation and evacuation" abortions into what are now called "partial-birth abortions." That method, though even more controversial than D&E abortions, was largely developed to help keep a woman's cervix intact and undamaged, which preserves her ability to have children — and in almost all cases was still used before a fetus became "viable" and able to live outside the womb. The name change convinced many voters, however, that the procedure meant babies were being legitimately born and then stabbed through the head by doctors, which isn't true.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice sexual-health research institution that works closely with Planned Parenthood, wrote this year that D&E abortion bans are "part of a larger campaign to limit access to abortion and would force providers to substitute the ideology of lawmakers for their own professional medical judgment and the preferences of their patients." The institute also warns that many fetal abnormalities aren't discovered until after the second trimester begins, meaning the safest and most common second-trimester abortion method would be unavailable in Florida when fetuses are diagnosed with severe deformities.

(The bill, technically, bans doctors from performing the procedure but doesn't punish women for receiving it. The House bill is sponsored by Melbourne Rep. Debbie Mayfield, while Vero Beach Rep. Erin Grall and Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters are backing the Senate version. Gruters, infamously, co-chaired Donald Trump's Florida campaign.)

The measures, filed during the first official week of the 2018 legislative session, are merely the latest in a wave of anti-abortion measures pitched in Florida this decade. Gov. Rick Scott signed the 24-hour waiting-period bill into law in July 2015, but it's never been enforced. Multiple lawsuits put the bill on ice until judges decided what to do about it. That bill was finally killed yesterday. A measure last year to ban abortion after 20 weeks also failed.

Planned Parenthood in Florida is also warning against a different bill, SB 444, which would permanently allow so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" to operate in the state. The group warns these so-called "crisis" centers are often run by anti-abortion groups who often give misleading or outright false information to women struggling with unplanned pregnancies.

Now state Republicans are tossing out yet another abortion restriction. The Guttmacher Institute warns not to fall for it.

"By restricting the most common method of second-trimester abortion, policymakers hostile to abortion would take a significant step forward in their campaign to eliminate abortion access in the United States," Guttmacher writes. "As with most abortion restrictions, the consequences would fall hardest on those already struggling to obtain access to abortion."

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