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Florida clarifies exceptions to 6-week abortion ban after it takes effect

How abortion access is changing in Florida
How abortion access is changing in Florida 05:12

Washington — Florida health regulators issued a new rule Thursday clarifying exceptions to the state's six-week abortion ban, detailing the treatments allowed for certain medical conditions that jeopardize the health of the pregnant woman and fetus.

The rule from the state's Agency for Health Care Administration come a day after Florida's new abortion restrictions took effect. With the state's new law, abortion access is sharply limited across the Southeast.

The measure specifies that treatments for an ectopic pregnancy and trophoblastic tumor, a rare tumor that forms where the placenta attaches to the uterus, are not considered abortions. It also states that if a physician attempts to induce delivery to treat the premature rupture of membranes and the fetus does not survive, it is not considered an abortion.

The conditions can occur after six weeks gestation and "can present an immediate danger to the health, safety and welfare of women and unborn children" in hospitals and abortion clinics if not immediately treated, according to state regulators.

The agency said it initiated the rulemaking to "safeguard against any immediate harm that could come to pregnant women due to disinformation," and accused the media, Biden administration and advocacy groups of perpetuating a "deeply dishonest scare campaign" to misrepresent the state's abortion law. The emergency rule is necessary "to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of pregnant women and unborn babies during medical emergencies," according to the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Florida's six-week ban was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year but did not immediately take effect, as the state supreme court considered a challenge to a separate measure prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That 15-week restriction was passed by the state legislature in April 2022, months before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Florida Supreme Court in early April upheld the 15-week ban, clearing the way for the more restrictive, six-week law to take effect. 

The ban includes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and human trafficking up to 15 weeks of pregnancy. It also allows physicians to terminate a pregnancy if necessary to save the life of the mother or prevent "a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment."  

Still, supporters of abortion rights have warned that the law is effectively a near-total ban on abortion, since many women do not know they are pregnant until after six weeks gestation.

Since the Supreme Court dismantled the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, 14 states have outlawed abortion with limited exceptions. Another seven ban abortions in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.

Many physicians in states with stringent abortion restrictions have struggled to navigate narrow exceptions to the bans. The Supreme Court last week considered a case that pit Idaho's near-total abortion ban against a federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care to patients experiencing medical emergencies. The Biden administration argued that under that federal law, stabilizing treatment may be abortion care, and in those instances, the federal measure overrides state laws restricting abortion access.

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