Tensions remain over Florida’s quickly moving 15-week abortion ban


Nicole Pasia


Despite House Democrats filing over a dozen amendments to House Bill 5, which would ban all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, the bill passed the House last week along party lines and is expected to be heard in the Senate this week.

Co-introduced by Reps. Erin Grall (R – Indian River) and Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R – Lee), one of the bill’s provisions would reduce the timeframe under Florida statutes for an abortion from 24 weeks of gestation to 15 weeks. 


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Democrats attempted to amend the bill to allow several exceptions to the abortion ban, including: 

All amendments were voted down by House Republicans. 

Earlier this month, over 600 Florida health care professionals sent an open letter calling for legislators to oppose the bill. Shelly Holmstrom, M.D., a Tampa-based obstetrician-gynecologist and District XII chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), was among those who signed the letter. 

“Any sort of interference between a physician and their patient—anything that’s legislative and not evidence-based or science-backed—is really inappropriate,” she told State of Reform. 

Under this bill, the only circumstances that would allow an abortion after 15 weeks are the following: 

  • Two physicians, or one if there is not a second available for consult, deem an abortion is necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life or avoid serious, irreversible physical harm.
  • A physician determines the fetus “has not achieved viability,” or the ability to successfully survive outside the womb.
  • Two physicians certify in writing that the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality. The bill defines a fatal fetal abnormality as “In reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb and will result in death upon birth or imminently thereafter.”

ACOG hoped certain amendments would address language around three aspects of the bill: the 15 week gestation period, fatal fetal anomalies, and viability of the fetus.

At last week’s hearing, in defense of the 15 week timeframe, Rep. Ralph Massullo, M.D. (R – Citrus), referenced a January 2020 article published in the British Medical Journal that suggests fetal pain may be detected in the brain as early as 12 weeks.  

Holmstrom said she could not speak from a pediatric care perspective, but noted a pain threshold is separate from viability. She also argued the 15 week threshold was an arbitrary definition, and that some patients fall outside of standard gestation measurements. 

“Typically, [pregnancy] is dated from the first day of your last period … However, I have patients that may not have regular cycles. Maybe they only have two or three cycles a year, and many of them may not know they are pregnant until they are well into the second trimester.”

Holmstrom also stated that 15 weeks is too short of a timeframe to determine whether a fetus has a fatal abnormality. She said abnormalities are usually detected through an anatomy ultrasound, which usually does not occur until 18-20 weeks’ gestation. 

Aside from a medical perspective, Holmstrom spoke of the economic and emotional impacts such a bill will have on her patients. A study from the University of California San Francisco found that women who were denied an abortion and forced to carry the pregnancy to term are four times more likely to live below the Federal Poverty Level.

“I work a lot with disadvantaged patient populations both in Tampa and some of the surrounding communities and my heart always goes out to the patients,” Holmstrom said. “You can just see a lot of things that happen to them are circumstances of their social situations. I’m always very passionate about having and keeping the maximum amount of comprehensive, medical reproductive care available to all of my patients, especially the disadvantaged patients.”

During the hearing, Rep. Daryl Campbell (D – Broward) asked Grall whether she had consulted medical groups, such as ACOG, in the process of drafting the bill. In response, Grall did not cite specific medical organizations, but referenced medical research and testimony from the ongoing U.S. Supreme Court case, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, as well as definitions found in current statute

HB 5 was reported favorably from the Senate Appropriations Committee in a 13-6 vote last week and has been placed on the calendar for second reading on the Senate floor.