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Fifty years after Roe, Florida targets abortion pill; Women’s health care options dwindle

abortion pill
abortion pill

By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org

New Florida laws threaten pharmacists and doctors by treating abortion pills like contraband and penalizing their use outside strict limits.

Florida has been an oasis for women from neighboring anti-abortion states seeking medical procedures to safely end their pregnancies, but that was before last year’s sea change in reproductive rights. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, decided 50 years ago today.

In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a Florida law that forbids abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape, incest or sex trafficking. Controlled by DeSantis appointees, the Florida Supreme Court is expected to uphold the law against a privacy challenge.

Now the Republican-led Legislature apparently wants to sabotage pill-induced abortions. As of this month, Florida laws that criminalize direct access to abortion pills conflict with a federal guideline that allows it.

Because the state laws are difficult to enforce, the underlying strategy seems to be intimidation through threats of criminal prosecution.

‘DEATH BY MAIL’ PROVOKES A THREAT

State Rep. Anna Eskamani

“Oh, you know. Just an average day in Florida where health providers receive threatening emails from the state, this time about abortion,” State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted the day a state agency sent a barbed “reminder” to providers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized pharmacies to dispense the abortion pill, Mifepristone, on Jan. 3.

In the meantime, Florida along with other hardline anti-choice states, is heading in the opposite direction. Despite polls that show majority support for most abortions, the DeSantis administration is giving opponents what they want.

“Today we may very well be confronting a brand-new frontier of abortion – no-test chemical abortion distribution – in essence, death by mail delivered to your doorstep,” Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said on a press call in December 2021.

On Jan. 11, Florida’s Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) email-blasted this “ALL ALERT” warning to physicians and pharmacists “in light of” the FDA’s action: “The Agency will refer to local law enforcement any evidence of criminal activity that it discovers in its surveys of providers.”

FLORIDA’S STANCE ‘HEAVY-HANDED’

The crime would be violating the new state statute that provides “no termination of pregnancy shall be performed at any time except by a [licensed] physician.”

Also as of last month, “it is unlawful for any person to perform … an abortion on a person … other than in a validly licensed hospital or abortion clinic or a physician’s office.” There’s an exception for medical emergencies.

Elizabeth Nash

Violations are punishable by a $500 fine for a second-degree misdemeanor or a $5,000 fine for a third-degree felony.

The AHCA email is unusual, according to Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research ally of Planned Parenthood.

“I think it speaks to how the governor of Florida and policymakers are looking at trying to further restrict access to abortion care,” Nash told WUSF, a public media radio station in Tampa.

“You typically don’t see this, even around abortion, which is the most heavily regulated medical service in the country. So, this felt very heavy-handed. It is what it is. It’s a deterrent, particularly for pharmacies.”

FLORIDA PHARMACISTS SAY NOTHING

The Florida statutes are obliquely written, but the message is clear: A woman may not take a doctor’s prescription to her neighborhood CVS or Walgreens and buy Mifepristone pills for use in the privacy of her home. Anyone who helps her violate approved procedures may be prosecuted.

To comply with the law, women who are no more than 10 weeks’ pregnant must keep two doctor’s appointments–scheduled around a 24-hour waiting period—at a licensed abortion facility. The woman has to take a first abortion pill in front of her doctor; she’s allowed to take a second pill at home.

The Florida Pharmacy Association has so far refrained from wading into the abortion pill debate, even though its members could be prosecuted for following the federal  guideline. The association did not respond to a Florida Bulldog request for comment.

The issue isn’t likely to die from lack of oxygen anytime soon, however. The end of Roe seems to have only energized those who want to ban all abortions nationwide.

They’ve annexed a new battleground: drug-induced abortion. In Texas, a federal judge is weighing a challenge to the new FDA guideline. Few would be surprised to see a similar legal effort in Florida.

Neither side in the abortion war is retreating. On Friday, anti-abortion activists rallied at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. And the Women’s March organized a main rally in Madison, WI and others around the country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

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Latest comments

  • If DeSantis and the radical right think they can stop women, in Florida or anywhere, from obtaining and taking abortion pills they are off the charts unrealistic.

  • How is the termination of a pregnancy considered women’s healthcare? That is psychotic thinking. What kind of monster kills a baby? No rights for the unborn? Sodom and Gomorrah redux.

  • Logicalimposition- When you have the ability to house and pay for every illegitimate child born to people who should not be replicating their DNA, then you can call the shots for everyone. Until then, keep your beliefs to yourself. Especially when it costs the rest of us millions. And if you aren’t a foster home, and you don’t contribute a significant amount of resources to fostering unwanted children, then you are a hypocrite by asking everyone else to do so just so you can sleep well at night. Cheers.

  • Thanks for the update, Noreen. I can think of no equally important form of women’s healthcare than cancer treatment of the reproductive system or a C-section when labor is not progressing. I decide in favor of a woman’s right to continue her progress in life (school, work) versus a .5-inch embryo every time. People have got to stop calling tiny fertilized eggs, zygotes, and embryos that look like seahorses “babies.” Yes, the genetic material for developing a baby, is there, but the same genetic material also exists in eggs and sperm. It takes time and a willing womb to make a new human being–and the “willing” part should be an absolute requirement.

  • Up next: restrictions on birth control. It won’t come all at once; first there will be legislation against minors purchasing birth control. Then birth control items that “pose a helth risk.” Then laws punishing doctors who prescribe, and pharmacists who dispense, sanctioned birth control items. And the restrctions will continue to tighten, drip, drip, drip, until by the time there is a ban on birth control it will be too late.

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