Providers say young women, violence victims harmed by abortion restrictions

A rally participant grabs a “Bans Off My Body” sticker during the March for Abortion Access at City Hall on Oct. 2, 2021, in Orlando.

ORLANDO — Asked to explain how Florida’s new abortion laws have impacted her practice, Dr. Shelly Tien shared the story of an abused teenager who came to her North Florida clinic for help — but had to be sent to another state.

“She was an incest survivor, and we were not able to care for her because she was past 15 weeks [pregnant],” Tien said.

Tien, an obstetrician and gynecologist, told the patient’s story last week at a press conference held by Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida. She is among a chorus of health professionals who say Florida’s 15-week abortion ban and the reversal of Roe v. Wade have disproportionately harmed young women and victims of abuse.

Florida prohibited most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape of incest, earlier this year. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the legislation that took effect on July 1.

Tien said the girl was transported to an out-of-state facility where she received the appropriate care. Tien said young women, female victims of intimate partner violence and women who have desired pregnancy but learn of a fetal diagnosis past the 15-week threshold are among the patients she has had to turn away.

“It is horrifying to me that in a lot of the public discourse on abortion and abortion restrictions and exceptions, we are so dismissive of violence and the impact of violence for women and girls,” she said.

Increase in patients

Ina McDonald, health manager at the Tallahassee clinic, said her clinic has received an increased number of patients and has seen how traveling long distances to access abortion care brings stress and anxiety for pregnant women and those around them.

McDonald said prior to the Supreme Court decision to overrule Roe v. Wade, the facility received between 30 to 40 patients a day. Now, the number of patients ranges from 80 to 85 a day.

She said patients come from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — all states  with abortion bans in place  — as well as South Carolina, where a sixweek ban has been suspended  by the state Supreme Court.

McDonald also shared the story of a woman experiencing domestic violence who sought to end her pregnancy. The woman’s partner forced her to share cell phones, which required health providers to be even more cautious, McDonald said.

“We had to be very careful in how we contacted her. [We] couldn’t just call and say, ‘Planned Parenthood,’” she said. “We were only able to get her a flight booked the day before her appointment so that she could quickly fly there and back in order to avoid her partner becoming suspicious.”

Anna Varlamov, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Central Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel the 15-week abortion ban complicates the timeline for patients and doctors.

She said several abnormalities are not identified until after 15 weeks of pregnancy while preliminary fetal testing can take anywhere from 7 to 15 days to produce results.

“I’ve now had at least two patients who just went ahead and had an abortion, risking that it may be a completely normal fetus, simply because they weren’t willing to risk losing that choice,” she said.

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