TAMPA, Fla. — It's been more than a month since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping away a woman's constitutional right to an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Several states had "trigger" laws on the books that automatically went into effect when the Supreme Court issued its decision. Florida didn't have a trigger law, but it did have a brand new law ready to go into effect on July 1.
In April, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill restricting most abortions after 15 weeks unless the pregnant person's life is endangered or the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not have exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. It's widely considered Florida's strictest abortion ban in state history.
Now, days away from the one-month mark of the ban, doctors in Florida are describing confusion and fear over the law.
Dr. Amy Brown is an attending physician at the University of South Florida where the OB/GYN department sees some of the most at-risk maternal and fetal cases in the state.
Brown said, "We’re having patients get a delay in care because of a lack of understanding."
Florida's law has just two exceptions for abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy: if the mother's life is in danger or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. Brown says those exceptions create confusion because there's no explicit classification for what constitutes "life-threatening" or "fatal."
"We’re seeing a lot of different variations in how people interpret that depending on what hospital you’re at, what city you’re in," Brown said.
Many times, the most serious of conditions don't show up in testing until after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Brown said the best look at a fetus comes with a full anatomy scan usually done between 18-22 weeks of pregnancy.
"That’s way too late to be able to do anything by 15 weeks. It really is a limitation on people being able to make those decisions," she added.
Brown and other Florida doctors said they're communicating more with doctors outside the state. In some cases, patients living in states with even more restrictive abortion laws are seeking care in Florida. In other situations, Florida patients need to travel to get a safe abortion.
Patients are confused, too.
"Abortion is legal in Florida up to 15 weeks but because the ban went into effect, then there was an injunction, then questions over if it's in effect or not, people were confused," said McKenna Kelley with the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund.
The organization was founded in 2017 and the group started funding abortions for people in 2018. Kelley estimates they can currently fund roughly 320 first-trimester abortions right now, based solely on new donations, which is a record for the fund. The group also receives regular donations and grants from various sources.
"No matter what stage of pregnancy they’re at in Florida, you have options," she said.
Florida's law is currently working its way through the court system. DeSantis appealed the court's decision to temporarily halt the law, meaning it is automatically back in place until a judge says otherwise.