Opinion: Roe v. Wade’s future is grim with Florida’s 15-week abortion ban


Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban isn’t encouraging for the future of reproductive rights in the United States.

On March 3, the Florida’s Senate passed a bill banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The measure will take effect on July 1 pending the approval of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a pro-life Republican, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill’s only stated exceptions to the 15-week restriction are in cases where the mother is at risk of death or serious “irreversible” injury, or if the fetus has a fatal defect. It includes no exceptions for victims of sexual assault.

The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Kelli Stargel, defended this exclusion. She told fellow lawmakers on March 4 that she rejected the premise that a “child should be killed because of the circumstances in which it was conceived.”

It’s a disturbing trend in American politics right now, with several other state legislatures considering measures limiting women’s rights and access to abortions. Florida’s 15-week ban is just the latest example of this.

“Most defects or dangers to the mother are not detected until the second trimester,” said Kathleen Arnold, director of the Refugee and Forced Migration Studies Program at DePaul University. “When they try to ban any abortion after a certain time period, most of the legislators know that some women don’t even know that they are pregnant, or they are at risk of their pregnancy, until the second trimester.”

Considering the second trimester of pregnancy is between weeks 13 and 26, Florida’s 15-week ban doesn’t leave women with much time should they decide or need to have an abortion.

Mississippi has a very similar law that limits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The 15-week ban is a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade landmark case, as the time frame is about two months earlier than it, and later decisions, allow.

“Yes, it does [violate Roe v. Wade],” Jo Greep, the director of communications for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, wrote in an email to The DePaulia. “But the Supreme Court is refusing to take action against blatantly unconstitutional laws like this one.”

The ban in Mississippi was enacted in 2018 by their state legislature, but never went into full effect after a federal appellate court blocked its enforcement. In 2020, the Mississippi appeal moved up to the Supreme Court, where the legality of the 15-week ban is expected to be ruled on later this year.

President Joe Biden has nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. But even if he successfully appoints Jackson, the Court will still have a 6-to-3 conservative majority.

With the conservative tendencies of the Court’s justices, and states like Florida and Mississippi pushing for more restrictive measures, Roe v. Wade is at serious risk of being weakened or overturned.

“I’m not optimistic about lawmakers or the Supreme Court right now at all,” Arnold said. “The true path is resistance, that’s how there’s going to be any positive outcome.”

Arnold acknowledged that Roe v. Wade’s protection of abortion rights has already been weakened in recent judicial history.

Initially under Roe v. Wade, the Court decided that states couldn’t interfere with abortion during the first trimester, but they can regulate it during the second to protect women’s health, and possibly even ban abortion during the third trimester.

That changed in 1992, when Planned Parenthood v. Casey’s decision allowed states to interfere at any point during the pregnancy. States can do this for one of two reasons: protection of the potential fetal life, or protection of women’s health and safety, as long as it doesn’t present an “undue burden” for women seeking an abortion.

So Roe v. Wade has been weakened in the past, which is what makes upcoming Supreme Court action on abortion so important for the future of reproductive rights.

Should the Supreme Court deem the 15-week ban constitutional in 2022, it could quickly limit abortion access nationwide. It could also have detrimental effects on some states’ healthcare systems.

“It’s extremely discouraging,” said DePaul health sciences senior Becca Rodenkirch. “The Florida ban is going to increase the number of health disparities and inequities we see, especially in marginalized communities.”

Abortion rates don’t actually drop when it’s outlawed, according to a 2020 study from the Guttmacher Institute. The procedure simply becomes more dangerous. Performing illegal abortions or traveling to areas where they are legal become the only options for women not wishing to carry their pregnancy to term.

The latter is what leads to the inequities Rodenkirch referenced. Having to travel out of state for an abortion could stretch healthcare sites thin in the states where the practice remains legal. This would be most detrimental to marginalized communities that already face inequities in healthcare.

“If Roe falls, 26 states could quickly ban abortion, including every state that borders Illinois, and leave millions of people without access to abortion where they live,” Greep wrote.

Illinois is already preparing to have to function as a haven for abortion patients. Several surrounding states, including Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky, already have unenforced “trigger” laws that would automatically ban abortions if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Twelve states in total have these laws in place.

Considering about 70 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s disappointing that state lawmakers are focused on abortion bans when there are so many pressing issues facing Americans. Economic inequality continues to worsen, and our nation’s infrastructure is insufficient. But in 2022, many legislators choose to prioritize limiting reproductive rights.

“It feels like we’re moving backwards in terms of progress towards having safe, equitable, and accessible healthcare for everyone,”Rodenkirch said.