Updated May 2, 2024 - News

Florida clarifies six-week abortion ban exceptions

Illustration of a caduceus with red tape wrapped around it from all angles

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

A day after Florida's six-week abortion ban took effect, the state's health care regulation agency on Thursday issued emergency rules governing how medical providers should handle certain life-threatening pregnancy complications.

Why it matters: The rules seek to clarify certain conditions that create a gray area for physicians weighing how to treat their patients without breaking the law, which puts providers at risk of criminal charges and loss of license.

The big picture: Anecdotes and research have poured in from abortion-ban states of patients whose doctors delayed treatment until their conditions worsened enough to be considered life-threatening under the law.

Zoom in: Even while Florida was still under a 15-week ban, patients experienced such delays of care, according to reports published last year in the Tampa Bay Times and the Washington Post.

  • The new six-week ban includes carve-outs to save a pregnant person's life, to "avert a serious risk" to the patient's health, or in limited cases in which the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Driving the news: The Agency for Health Care Administration rules provide standards for reporting and treatment of conditions that can occur after six weeks of pregnancy and put women and fetuses in "immediate danger."

  • Those are premature rupture of membranes, which occurs when a patient's water breaks prematurely; ectopic pregnancies, when a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus; and trophoblastic tumors.
  • Treatment of those conditions is not considered an abortion, and physicians shouldn't report those cases to the state, per the rules.

Between the lines: The rules are helpful, said retired Tampa obstetrician-gynecologist Bruce Shephard, who reviewed the standards on Thursday at Axios' request.

  • But they don't address a range of other possible complications such as preeclampsia, or high blood pressure that often begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • And, he said, they still don't help the many more patients seeking abortion care for other reasons.

What he's saying: "The impact of the reduction of access to health care remains as strong as ever," said Shephard, who spoke against the ban last month at a Florida Democratic Party news conference.

The other side: The agency did not immediately return Axios' request for comment on Thursday.

  • It issued the policies "due to a deeply dishonest scare campaign and disinformation being perpetuated by the media, the Biden Administration, and advocacy groups," according to the rule.

The intrigue: In his career of more than four decades, Shephard said he'd never seen such politicized language in what's supposed to be a neutral document outlining evidence-based standards of care.

  • "It raises concern to me about the scientific approach that is expected by professionals," he said.

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