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
“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.
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.