In a ‘heartbeat’

How much will women’s healthcare change with DeSantis’ Heartbeat Protection Act?

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Posted April 27, 2023 | By Julie Garisto

While the national conversation recently has centered on the legal debate around Mifepristone, an oral medication known as “the abortion pill,” in Florida, it remains uncertain how women’s lives will be affected by a bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law earlier this month.

SB 300, the Heartbeat Protection Act, became law on April 13, and the State Capitol press release announcing its passage is still the top Google result when you search it by name. The new law prohibits abortions once the fetus has a detectible heartbeat, at six weeks.

Previous bills similar to SB 300 were introduced by Florida Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, (SB 792), and State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, filed House Bill 235 in January, considered to be a companion bill. Georgia and Mississippi lawmakers have also recently banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“I think we’ll see some improvement in moving away from the idea that we should recommend, enforce, encourage people to destroy their own infants,” Baxley told WLRN in South Florida.

However, not everyone agrees with the six-week ban.

A poll in February by the University of North Florida found that 75% of the state’s residents either somewhat or strongly oppose the six-week ban—including 61% of Republicans.

According to physicians who specialize in reproductive health, the term “fetal heartbeat,” as used in the anti-abortion law in Texas, is not based on science. What the ultrasound machine detects in an embryo at six weeks of pregnancy is electrical activity from cells that aren’t yet a heart, and the sound attributed to a pulse is manufactured by the ultrasound machine.

Likewise, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes any proposals, laws, or policies that attempt to confer “personhood” to a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus.

According to their official position posted on ACOG’s website, “These laws and policies are used to limit, restrict, or outright prohibit access to care for women and people seeking reproductive healthcare, including those who are pregnant, those who are trying to prevent pregnancy, and those who are trying to become pregnant, and they have been used as the basis of surveillance and prosecution of pregnant people.”

Regardless, abortion will be allowed in Florida through the first two trimesters only if a woman is impregnated as a victim of human trafficking, incest or rape, including statutory rape, at risk of death, or deemed in “substantial and irreversible harm” or the fetus has a “fatal fetal abnormality.” Documentation is required and can include a restraining order, police report, medical record or other evidence.

According to his State Capitol press statement, DeSantis signed “groundbreaking legislation to encourage responsible and involved fatherhood in Florida through educational programs, mentorship programs, and one-on-one support.”

The governor’s Framework for Freedom Budget also includes permanent sales tax exemptions for baby and toddler necessities, including cribs and strollers, tax holidays on children’s books, toys, athletic equipment, and pet food, plus more than $96 million to support foster parents, caregivers, and children.

It includes nearly $143 million to enhance services for pregnant and postpartum women and children, which the statement says “will improve maternal health outcomes for women at high risk for maternal morbidity.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called it “extreme and dangerous” and said it “flies in the face of fundamental freedoms and is out of step with the views of the vast majority of the people of Florida and of all the United States.”

The signing of the Heartbeat Protection Act has elicited outrage from abortion-rights  Democrats. Former gubernatorial candidate/Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried and Senate Minority leader Lauren Book were arrested on April 3 at the State Capitol during the Occupy Tally protest of the bill.

The governor has also signed legislation that discontinues Florida’s status as a southern-U.S. abortion haven and cuts off access to out-of-staters who visit from neighboring states for the procedure.

According to a University of California San Francisco study, one in three women confirm their pregnancies after six weeks, and one in five past seven weeks.

“Later confirmation of pregnancy is even higher among young people, people of color, and those living with food insecurity, suggesting that gestational bans on abortion in the first trimester will disproportionately hurt these populations,” the study reported.

Florida’s latest sortie in the abortion rights crusade aligns with the 20-plus states that have either banned or made abortions more restrictive since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which repealed the precedent set by Roe v. Wade to federally protect abortion rights in the U.S. In these states, women must travel for abortion care, in some instances in secret, to receive services.

“Many questions remain about the broader impact of each of the recently passed state abortion bans, should they take effect,” writes lawyer Joan Zolot in “The American Journal of Nursing.”
“The contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) acts by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, which the Georgia statute deems a person,” Zolot continued. “Might this, therefore, make IUDs unavailable to women residing in Georgia? When pregnant patients present with vaginal bleeding, might clinicians decline to help for fear of prosecution? And might women with vaginal bleeding—which can indicate fibroid tumors or cancer in addition to pregnancy problems such as miscarriage—delay seeking medical help?”

What if a local child becomes pregnant? Would a 12-year-old have the means to report a rape to the law enforcement? What does an economically challenged parent do in this situation?

Questions on how to navigate these murky waters remain unanswered, and the gynecologists that the “Gazette” contacted for comment did not respond over a period of two weeks with any input on the matter.

Pregnancy options for women in Marion County

According to the statistical news website, the average resident in Marion County lives 44.7 miles from the nearest clinic, which is in Gainesville. The county ranks No. 39 in Floridian metros with the closest access to abortion services and at No. 865 nationwide.

“There are many reasons people make the very personal decision to have an abortion and by the time they know they are pregnant, they will likely not get an appointment for an abortion within a six-week time,” lamented Pam Escarcega, president of NOW of Greater Marion County.” Many appointments in Florida abortion clinics are being taken by people coming from other areas of the Southeast that have already enacted restrictive abortion laws.”

Driving down two-lane highways, including State Road 40 just east of Silver Springs, billboards solicit women to consider adoption as an option for an unplanned pregnancy.

In Ocala, the Women’s Pregnancy Center on Silver Springs Boulevard promotes itself as a “faith-based” practice on its website and says upfront that it will not recommend abortion as an option for pregnant women.

On its website, the center says, “We can discuss the different types of abortion procedures with you and the risks associated with each. We may also be able to offer you a free ultrasound exam to give you the facts you need prior to making a decision.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, ultrasounds, either abdominal or transvaginal, given before an abortion procedure, is a common practice to assure appropriate dating of the pregnancy, but it is not medically necessary and can add to the cost of the abortion procedure, reported the reproductive health research organization.

Google Reviewer Lauren Davis credited the Women’s Pregnancy Center for “an amazing Parenting Class” adding, that she and her husband “walked away with more knowledge and a huge amount of free baby things.”

But not every patient has left WPC satisfied. Marie Mellon’s criticism of the facility’s faith-based approach calls into question its professional objectivity.

“If you’re in a healthy relationship but not married or engaged, they will push marriage on you,” Mellon wrote. “‘A ring isn’t that expensive,’ the woman told me. I went there to determine how far along I was, not to be lectured about Jesus and marriage. And after I explained that I’m in a good relationship, but the baby was our priority right now, she suggested I go to single mother classes.”

How will this ruling bode for our DeSantis?

Will the governor’s recent anti-abortion victory lap help or hurt his chances if, as expected, he makes a presidential bid next year?

Depends on whom you ask.

In previous years, Florida’s Supreme Court has blocked anti-abortion measures passed by the GOP legislators, but the judicial body has adopted more conservative stances since DeSantis took office.

DeSantis, who’s considered by many pundits to be former President Donald Trump’s biggest opponent in the Republican primary, has dropped in popularity. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after Trump was indicted on illegal campaign finance charges related to a payoff to an adult film star shows Trump with 58% of Republican votes to DeSantis’ 21% —a 10% gain for Trump compared to surveys given before the indictment.

As news about the Heartbeat Protection Act was hitting national news, billionaire Thomas Peterffy announced that he and his friends were going to pause their financial support for DeSantis. The backers criticized the governor’s “extreme positions on social issues.”

In military parlance, a Pyrrhic victory inflicts a devastating toll on a conqueror with such an unintended backlash that it causes defeat for the once-declared winner. The phrase originates from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose success against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign.

Time will tell if his latest win on the abortion front will wind up a major historic triumph for DeSantis or as a Pyrrhic political disaster.


The Gazette asked locals to weigh in on the matter. Here is some of the commentary we received: 

The Constitution’s guarantee that no one can “be deprived of life, liberty or property” deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “All” are endowed by their Creator” with the inalienable right to life. We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. The Fourteenth Amendment protects human life from conception to natural death.

Marion County Republican Executive Committee


I am the mother of 4 and the grandmother of 4. I love them dearly. So, why am I writing in opposition to the near total abortion ban that Governor DeSantis just signed into law? Because abortion is healthcare. Because abortion is a discussion between a woman and her doctor. Because access to abortion is supported by most Floridians.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis have turned Florida into one of the most restrictive states in the country with regard to abortion. The ban they have passed and signed into law could prevent four million Floridian women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks. The Republicans talk about freedom. The new abortion ban is not freedom. Rather, the ban ignores what the people of Florida want and wipes out reproductive rights that woman have had for more than 50 years.

Here in Ocala, it is not easy for a woman to get an abortion. If you do a website search for “abortion in Ocala,” you are directed to sites that do not perform abortions and do not refer for abortions. In fact, these sites use thinly disguised language to discourage abortions. If a woman in Ocala wants an abortion at a clinic, she has to travel to Gainesville, Orlando or Tampa. This presents enormous obstacles for anyone with limited resources. The abortion ban only will compound these obstacles as many women do not even know they are pregnant at 6 weeks. Perhaps our legislators need a refresher on woman’s menstrual cycles with all its irregularities, along with extenuating health issues.

The Biden administration is correct in calling the new abortion ban extreme and dangerous and out of step with the views of the vast majority of Floridians. I stand with the nearly 80,000 Democrats in Marion County on the side of reproductive freedom. Since polls show that about two-thirds of Floridians oppose the ban, then many No Party Affiliates and Republicans stand with us.

One more thing, it amazes me—in all this discussion—there is not a word about the male role in this process. Sex is not going away, so why are we not talking about PREVENTING pregnancies, thereby avoiding the need for abortions!  What about FREE vasectomies, what about FREE Plan B (the “morning after pill”) that helps prevent conception, and what about the many other methods of birth control. Think of all the heartbreak that could be spared by focusing on preventing pregnancies. There is a better way!

Diana Williams
Chair of the Marion County Democratic Executive Committee

On April 13, DeSantis, opting for a closed-door private ceremony in his office, surrounded by a few dozen, mostly white, women, announced his late-night signing of what is essentially a complete abortion ban.

This is a cruel and unusual move for a Governor known for his politically chilling, authoritarian antics.

There are many reasons people make the very personal decision to have an abortion and by the time they know they are pregnant; they will likely not get an appointment for an abortion within a six-week time and many appointments in FL abortion clinics are being taken by people coming from other areas of the Southeast that have already enacted restrictive abortion laws.

Somewhere, there is a young woman desperate to secure her future and delay the beginning of the family she is not quite ready for, there is a woman terrified she will not physically survive the birth of her child. As always, this ban will affect poorer people, and people of color more drastically than people of means. People with money can leave the state or the country to get their healthcare needs met, but poor people cannot.

The rural “obstetric deserts” will only become more deadly with the enactment of this ban. Doctors are leaving the state, and others are deciding not to relocate to Florida in fear of having to decide between being jailed or saving a woman’s life.

Stories abound about doctors having to gear their medical decisions to the whims of lawmakers instead of following their own clinical knowledge and experience.

Even the exception for abortions in the case of rape or incest shows a heartbreaking lack of empathy, a woman must provide documentation such as a police report of a restraining order showing evidence of a crime to assure an abortion before 15 weeks.

The appallingly underreported rape and incest crimes pretty much assure this exception will not often be used.

This bill disingenuously named the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” again allows a disregard for true science and reason, preferring to side with duplicity. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “it is clinically inaccurate to use the word ‘heartbeat’ to describe the sound that can be heard on ultrasound in early pregnancy.” It takes five weeks for the heart to develop.

DeSantis claims the law would “defend the dignity of human life and transform Florida into a pro-family state.” This thinking follows his misguided attempt to push a frighteningly totalitarian future for Florida. I do not recognize this Florida and hope there is still time to avoid this long sad descent into a world I still believe most people would not really want to go to.

Pam Escarcega, President NOW of Greater Marion County

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