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Inside a Florida Abortion Clinic Ahead of the Supreme Court’s Decision

FORT MYERS, Fla. – At a Planned Parenthood health center on Florida’s Gulf Coast, new restrictions about who can get an abortion disrupt routines and create challenges for the clinic’s patients, doctors and nurses.

The center, in Fort Myers, has seen a steady influx of patients from Texas since last September, when a ban on all but the earliest abortions went into effect there, and from other states that have tightened access to the procedure in the past year. .

It is also adapting to a waiting time that: entered into force in Florida in April after years of litigation, requiring patients seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and then wait at least 24 hours before returning for the actual procedure. And a new state law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the current 24 weeks, will go into effect July 1, although Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers in the state have filed suit to try to block them.

On top of these changes, the Supreme Court is poised to make a ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion in the United States. Florida is not among the 13 states with so-called trigger laws, which will soon ban almost all abortions if Roe is overturned. But several nearby states have such laws, so the center could see even more out-of-state visitors after the ruling. And the Florida legislature could impose more restrictions.

Many patients in Florida undergo drug abortions, which involve the use of two different medications, 24 to 48 hours apart, and are allowed for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. But the center also offers surgical abortions up to nearly 22 weeks of pregnancy — at least until the new law goes into effect. It also offers pelvic and breast exams, various types of birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and other forms of reproductive health care.

Protesters are almost constantly present in the center. Planned Parenthood moved to new, larger premises in 2020; one January morning, several dozen protesters blocked the entrance, leading to at least nine arrests. Staff on duty that day feared the building itself would be breached, but they pressed a panic button that locked the doors and police arrived quickly, said Stephanie Fraim, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southwest. and Central Florida.

One afternoon in May, a 72-year-old former nurse was among a group of Catholic protesters who gathered outside the center praying that people would not opt ​​for the procedure. “Abortion is not health care,” said the retired nurse, who wanted to be identified only by her first name Gwen. “Murder on both sides of your life is not health care.”

The next day, a 27-year-old mother of two waited for her surgical abortion to begin. She had wanted to continue her pregnancy, she said. But while she and her fiancé were worried about how to afford living with a third child, she’d decided against it. Her fiancé had considered taking a second job, but she wanted him to have time to spend with their daughters.

Once the procedure got underway, Dr. Stacy De-Lin, then medical director of the center, quickly as the patient wept softly on the exam table as her fiancé squeezed her hand. A few minutes later, when the abortion was over, the couple hugged each other for a long time. She was 11 weeks pregnant.

“It was hard for me,” the patient said later, reflecting on the experience. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. But it was something we had to do as a couple that would benefit our family and our children.”

dr. De-Lin moved back to New York City last month. She had previously served as the associate medical director of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York and would practice again in the state, where abortion will remain legal until 24 weeks gestation, or later if the fetus is not viable or the patient’s life or health is at risk, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules. Part of the reason she left Florida, she said, was that she would not be allowed to perform abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy if the new law goes into effect as planned.

“The state you live in shouldn’t dictate what healthcare you have access to,” she said, “so it just feels hugely overwhelming and heartbreaking.”

Gabriela Bhaskar reported from Fort Myers, and Abby Goodnough from Washington.

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