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Exemptions for sexual assault survivors in Florida's proposed 6-week abortion ban require proof

Crowd of people sit on staircase outside at an abortion rally. Some hold signs in support of abortion rights.
Stephanie Colombini
/
WUSF Public Media
Abortion rights advocates have rallied in Florida for the past couple years as the state has increasingly tried to restrict access to the procedure.

Many assault survivors feel like they can't report the abuse due to safety concerns or other reasons, abortion rights advocates say.

A proposal to ban abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy includes exceptions for survivors of rape and incest up to 15 weeks, but patients are required to present proof. Abortion rights advocates say that could cause problems for people who have already experienced a traumatic event.

How to get help: If you or someone you know has suffered from sexual abuse you can contact the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673

The bills filed by Republican state lawmakers last week would require patients to present documentation that proves they were assaulted.

“At the time the woman schedules or arrives for her appointment to obtain the abortion, she must provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation providing evidence that she is obtaining the termination of pregnancy because she is a victim of rape or incest,” reads the Senate bill. “If the woman is a minor, the physician must report the incident of rape or incest to the central abuse hotline as required by s. 39.201.”

It may not be possible for some patients to meet that requirement, said Dr. Robyn Schickler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

“We've seen so many patients like this that choose not to report it or can't get proof by the time that they realize that they're pregnant,” she said. “It's very hard.”

Many women, transgender and nonbinary people feel like they can’t report sexual abuse, said Stephanie Loraine-Piñeiro, executive director of the Florida Access Network, a statewide abortion fund.

“Because it compromises their safety, it can create more violence, because they may be in an economic circumstance that they just can't leave,” she said.

Both Loraine-Piñeiro and Schickler fear the requirement would still end up forcing survivors of rape and incest to leave the state to get abortions if they are past the 6-week deadline. They oppose any abortion restrictions.

Florida is one of the only states left in the Southeast that allows abortions after six weeks. So if that changes, patients would have to travel far to access care. That could be costly, time-consuming and especially challenging for people still trapped in an abusive situation.

The proposal would also allow abortions after six weeks if physicians certify “in reasonable medical judgment” that a pregnant woman’s life is in danger or if a fatal fetal abnormality is detected before the third trimester.

The exemptions were championed by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), who advocated for rape and incest carve-outs for the current 15-week abortion ban that lawmakers passed last year. They did not end up including any.

"My biggest concern has always been the exception for rape and incest, fetal death and the life of the mother," Passidomo said. "That is my number one priority, and that’s why I support the bill. It’s in the bill.”

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D-Plantation) called the exemption an “over-simplified carve out included to appease Republicans’ guilty consciences.”

“Today, child victims of incest are forced to flee the state as medical refugees to get care. And with this bill, it will only get worse,” said Book. “This is it. They have come. And if it’s a war they want, it’s a war they will get. This issue bridges the partisan divide, and we will not go down as easily as they believe.”

The legislature could amend the bill in the coming weeks. If it does pass, implementing it will depend on whether the Florida Supreme Court rules the current 15-week abortion ban doesn't violate the state constitution.

Regardless of what happens, advocates stress health centers like Planned Parenthood and abortion funds around the state are available to support anyone who needs help to get care.

Resources

If you or someone you know has suffered from sexual assault you can contact the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network's website for help.

Florida Access Network has a resources page for people who need more information about Florida's abortion laws and how to get help. You can also research their emotional support helpline at 1-888-493-0092.

Planned Parenthood also has information on abortion and other reproductive health services on its website, where you can schedule a virtual or in-person appointment for care. Tampa Bay area residents can reach the regional call center at 941-567-3800.

The Tampa Bay Abortion Fund offers residents in this region assistance paying for abortions or receiving practical support.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.