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Florida's House passes a bill banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy


In Florida, a new abortion ban bill is a step closer to becoming law. The State House passed a bill banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Similar measures were also passed this week by West Virginia's House and Arizona's Senate. The bills were all inspired by a Mississippi abortion law that is now being considered by the Supreme Court, a case many believe may overturn Roe v. Wade. NPR's Greg Allen has been following the debate in Florida and joins us now. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So if this becomes law - and it sounds like that's very likely - how would it change access to abortion in Florida?

ALLEN: Well, it would prohibit all abortions after 15 weeks, with narrow exceptions for fetal abnormalities and to protect the life of the mother. The current law in Florida allows abortions until 24 weeks, and that's a point that's generally considered to be viability for the fetus. Like the Mississippi law, Florida's ban after 15 weeks doesn't include exceptions for rape or incest. The bill's sponsors concede that this law does run counter to Roe v. Wade, which currently allows abortions in the first and second trimesters. And in Florida, courts have said the right to an abortion is also protected by the state constitution. But opponents to abortion say that's changing. And here's one of the sponsors, Republican Representative Erin Grall.


ERIN GRALL: The courts have just gotten it wrong, and there is enough scientific evidence, in my opinion and the opinion of many, that would provide the court a basis to reconsider the decisions that they have made with regard to this issue in the past.

ALLEN: Supporters say by passing this bill, Florida will be ready when the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

FADEL: OK, so what would the real-life impact be if this becomes law?

ALLEN: Well, we heard statistics in the debate. According to the state, about 3 1/2 percent of abortions in Florida happen after 15 weeks, but that's thousands of women each year. Dr. Samantha Deans, an associate medical director with Planned Parenthood in Florida, says some women don't even realize they're pregnant until after 15 weeks. Another problem, she says, is that most fetal anomalies aren't detected by then.


SAMANTHA DEANS: You cannot perform an amniocentesis until the second trimester. And generally speaking, we don't perform amniocentesis until 16 to 20 weeks. That's just a medical fact.

ALLEN: Under the Florida bill, if an abnormality is discovered in the fetus after 15 weeks, the pregnancy can't be terminated unless two doctors certify the baby will die shortly after birth.

FADEL: Such a sensitive issue and one that people are really passionate about. How did that play out in the debate?

ALLEN: Well, we heard personal stories from several lawmakers during the debate last night. One was from Republican Dana Trabulsy who voted for the bill. She told colleagues she had an abortion when she was younger and now is anguished about it.


DANA TRABULSY: But mostly, I'm ashamed because I will never get to know the unborn child that I could have had.

ALLEN: Another lawmaker, Democrat Robin Bartleman, talked about the agonizing time she and her husband had when they discovered, well after 15 weeks, a severe abnormality in the baby that she was carrying. She talked about what this bill will do for families who are in a similar situation.


ROBIN BARTLEMAN: So when you get that terrible, heartbreaking news, you don't even have a decision because the state of Florida has already taken it away from you.

ALLEN: The bill passed Florida's House last night on a largely party-line vote. It now moves to Florida's Senate, where it's also expected to pass and likely to be signed by Florida's governor. If it does go into effect, and that lot depends now on the courts, it will affect not just women in Florida, but also those from the Caribbean and states throughout the Southeast - people who travel here for abortions.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen. Thank you, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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