Daily Dispatches
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to reporters while holding his 2-year-old grandson, August.
Associated Press/Photo by Dave Breitenstein/The News-Press
Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks to reporters while holding his 2-year-old grandson, August.

Florida lets doctors determine viability under new abortion ban

Abortion

A new law in Florida bans abortion at any point in a woman’s pregnancy if a doctor determines her child could survive outside the womb.

The law, signed June 13 by Gov. Rick Scott, redefines the state’s current third trimester abortion ban.

Current law prohibits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The new law will require women to have a doctor determine whether a baby is viable before having an abortion. It also removes a mother’s psychological state as an exception.

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The law passed the House 70-45 and the Senate 24-15 and takes effect July 1. It maintains exceptions for cases involving the life of the mother or irreversible physical impairment of a mother’s major bodily function. 

“Gov. Scott is pro-life and was glad to sign this bill that protects the lives of children,” spokesman John Tupps said in an email.

Twenty-one other states have passed legislation prohibiting post-viability abortions. The bill’s sponsors argued that modern medicine allows babies to survive outside the womb earlier in pregnancies than when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 and established a viability standard for state legislation, Reuters reported. Experts estimate that infants typically reach viability between 22 and 25 weeks gestational age. 

Post-viability abortion bans represent one of several popular forms of pro-life legislation. National Right to Life (NRL) promotes fetal pain bills, legislation that bans abortions after 20 weeks. Also due to modern medicine, doctors have determined that unborn babies can feel pain as early as 20 weeks. 

“We believe it is clear that the majority of the current Supreme Court is willing to give serious consideration to recognizing that states may assert compelling interests other than and in addition to viability that allow them to protect the life of the unborn,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation at NRL. 

Although the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute claims fetal pain legislation conflicts with the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision, NRL argues that fetal pain legislation represents a compelling state interest in the unborn child, which would supplement the court’s previously established compelling state interest in viability. Nine states currently ban abortion based on a fetal pain standard.

Despite successes, fetal pain bills have faced a variety of opposition. Arizona’s legislature passed a fetal pain bill in 2012, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the bill unconstitutional based on previous court precedent, starting with Roe v. Wade. More recently, West Virginia’s governor vetoed a fetal pain bill in March due to constitutionality concerns. Also in March, a federal judge overturned Arkansas’ 12-week abortion ban, claiming that fetal viability remains the key factor in determining legal abortions.  

But viability bills face challenges of their own. In Florida, Democrats opposed the legislation throughout the committee process and during the 2014 session. Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Democrat, voiced concern that doctors could be open to criminal prosecution and said different physicians can have varying opinions on an infant’s viability. “It is commonplace for people to get second and third opinions sometimes when they’re dealing with something very important,” she said. “And we know that physicians do have differences of opinion.”

But the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, a consistent supporter of the legislation, said advances in medicine and technology have shown that viability is possible in the second trimester. 

“This good legislation protects our society’s most vulnerable, the unborn, and recognizes that an unborn child who is viable and can sustain life outside of the womb has a right to life,” spokeswoman Ingrid Delgado said in a written statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtney Crandell
Courtney Crandell

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