‘15 Week Abortion Ban’ bill draws mixed support from students, faculty
As the president of USF’s Planned Parenthood organization, senior interdisciplinary sciences major Ellie Levesque said she is concerned with the implications of Senate Bill 146 — known as the ‘15-week Abortion Ban’ bill — on reproductive freedom in Florida.
“This is blatantly unconstitutional, and it’s going to be a barrier to [the] accessibility of not only abortion services, but health care in general,” she said.
The bill and its House counterpart, HB 5, prohibit receiving an abortion in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy, permitting the procedure for two exceptions: serious risks to the pregnant person and fatal fetal abnormalities. It was passed by the state Senate on March 3.
With both parts of Legislature being in full support of the bill, it will next be referred to Gov. Ron Desantis for signature. He said he is in agreement with the bill and will sign it “in short order,” despite its condemnation by President Joe Biden, according to statements made in Desantis’ March 4 press conference on the legislation.
If he signs it as expected, it will formally take effect in Florida on July 1, according to the Florida Senate’s webpage on the bill.
While SB 146 will act to reduce the time frame for receiving an abortion from 24 to 15 weeks, Levesque said she is fearful that support for the bill may inspire legislators to impose further restrictions on abortion in the future.
“There was also a six-week abortion ban proposed during this legislative session, but it did not gain any traction,” she said. “We now have a 15-week abortion bill that has been passed and will be signed into law by Gov. Ron Desantis, and a lot of people find that reasonable.
“I’m sure that in the next legislative session, there’s going to be more abortion bans proposed, probably less than 15 weeks. Over time, the six-week ban will seem a lot more palatable.”
Prior to the passage of Georgia’s “Heartbeat” bill in 2020, abortions were legally permitted until 20 weeks of pregnancy. Following its ratification by the Georgia Legislature, the bill drastically reduced the timeframe to six weeks.
“There’s a lot of people in the south that come to Florida to receive services and now that’s not going to be an option,” Levesque said. “This doesn’t just affect Floridians, it affects everyone.”
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration reported that 76,648 abortions took place in Florida in 2021. While this number included abortions performed on out-of-state residents, the agency didn’t specify how many individuals specifically qualified as non-Floridians.
Legislation in bordering states are much stricter, including Alabama’s “no abortion” law and Georgia’s “Heartbeat” bill. As a result, Florida’s provision of 24 weeks to receive an abortion has previously attracted individuals that live in states with heavy regulations.
Being the interim president of USF Students for Life, junior secondary English education major Gabriela Fotopoulos offered a different perspective on the bill.
“In our club, we feel that [HB 5 and SB 146] are a step in the right direction,” she said. “We are pro-life from conception to natural death, and we can already see the future of this bill. It’s going to save a lot of babies and protect a lot of women.”
Imposing restrictions upon accessibility may aid in helping pregnant people seek alternative solutions to abortion, according to Fotopoulos.
“We are not only against abortion, but we like to find solutions that benefit women and babies while saving lives,” she said. “We can’t blame women, because abortion can be something that you can be forced into or you could not know your other options.”
Although the bill intends to prevent abortion being used as an elective procedure by reducing the time frame, many people are not able to test for fetal abnormalities until 15 weeks, according to women and gender studies professor Diane Price-Herndl.
“When people discover during amniocentesis that the fetus has really serious issues, which can’t happen until the 14th or 15th week, the parent can’t carry the fetus to term as it has a very strong likelihood of a difficult, if not impossible, existence,” she said.
Imperative health-markers are evaluated following the amniocentesis exam that reveal whether or not the future child would suffer from complications, according to Price-Herndl. Depending on the results, parents may decide if they would like to get an abortion 15 weeks or more into the pregnancy.
SB 146’s stipulations also lack adequate protections for victims of rape and incest, who would be deprived of the ability to have an abortion despite their pregnancy being non-consensual, according to Levesque.
In reference to religion’s influence on discussions of abortion, Levesque said individuals of all faiths should be present. However, she believes the use of religious sentiments may serve to harm USF’s pro-choice religious community.
“The anti-abortionists who use religious rhetoric are the loud minority,” she said. “There’s amazing organizations such as Catholics for Choice that a lot of people probably don’t know about, because there’s this idea that a lot of people of certain religions are just automatically anti-abortion.”
For those that support the legislation, Fotopoulos said USF Students for Life offers a sense of community for individuals both interested in learning more about and seeking alternative solutions to abortion.
“Our club is meant to give resources to women and our club is here to provide help for not only USF students, but any pregnant woman,” Fotopoulos said. “What we are doing is genuine and true, and we will continue to be here for mothers and girls in need.”
Despite the legal impact the legislation is envisioned to have upon access to abortion within the state, Price-Herndl said continuing to uphold education on reproductive freedom at USF is of great importance.
“It has been proven time and time again, no matter where people have tried to make abortion illegal, abortion continues. It just becomes less safe,” she said.
“The facts show that the real way that you stop abortion is by providing widespread, medically accurate reproductive health education, as well as widespread, free access to birth control.”