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Care for moms and expectant parents is at the center of several new bills moving forward this session

Benjamin Manley

In Florida, finding care during pregnancy and in the year following birth can be a struggle. This session, the Republican-controlled legislature is working to address that with measures that would shrink maternity care deserts and by looking for ways to better educate the public. But some Democrats say the state is also moving forward with rules that are making access to care harder and in some cases putting the life of pregnant people in danger.

Reducing maternity care deserts in Florida is one of the goals of Senate President Kathleen Passidmo’s healthcare access package, dubbed Live Healthy. It includes provisions that would reduce regulations for autonomous nurse midwives, expand telehealth maternity care and create a designation for advanced birth centers. Sen. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland) is carrying the bill.

“The role of the advanced birth Center will be a birth center where mothers can go to have what would be considered uncomplicated deliveries," Burton says. "So they can go and have a planned C-section. They can have a planned vaginal delivery. But to your point, sometimes things happen.”

Burton says the centers will have staff who would be able to stabilize a mother and baby in the case of an emergency until they can be transported to the nearest hospital. Right now, birth centers are limited to providing care for low risk pregnancies with expected vaginal births. The advanced designation would expand the kind of care the centers could offer and would allow patients who require c-sections to stay overnight for continued care. Similar efforts in the past have hit roadblocks because of concerns about safety—especially for people in rural areas where hospitals aren’t close by, but that’s where maternity care deserts are typically found.

Another bill aims to help expectant parents learn about available services with a new website.

“I can share and understand the moments of anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and having questions and seeking out answers," says Rep. Persons Mulika (R-Fort Myers).

Persons-Mulicka who had a baby six months ago spoke in favor of the measure as it cleared its first committee stop.

“We have so many resources and programs for expectant mothers, for mothers and fathers seeking adoption services, or new parents with young children—that it’s so important that we get that information out to the community," Persons-Mulicka said.

The website is slated to include subjects such as education on pregnancy and parenting, maternal health services, prenatal and post-natal services, and adoption. But Democrats are worried the website could become a passthrough that might funnel users to inaccurate or biased sources, like crisis pregnancy centers. Here’s Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D-Delray Beach).

“I do have concerns about what that information is and that it’s medically accurate information and that it doesn’t have links to religious content, or links to other things that are really not government related,” Skidmore says.

Democrats are also worried about abortion access. A bill has been filed that would prevent abortion in all cases except when the life of a pregnant person is in danger. Another bill changes the state’s wrongful death law to allow parents to sue for the death of a fetus—something abortion access advocates worry could harm abortion providers.

Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) says the moves feel contrary to an effort to expand access to healthcare.

“Why are we making it harder for doctors to provide care? If we’re talking about wanting to retain doctors, why are we also in the same breath talking about criminally going after and imprisoning doctors for giving appropriate healthcare for women," Book asks.

Book says some women in need of abortions have been forced to wait for care until their health worsens. That’s because Florida’s current law bans most abortions after 15 weeks unless the life of the Pregnant person is in danger.

A challenge against Florida's 15-week ban is pending before the state supreme court. If the justices uphold the ban that would trigger a six-week ban lawmakers passed last year.

That’s not the only abortion related issue before the court. Next month, justices are scheduled to review ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment that would explicitly protect access to abortion up until the point of viability. Organizers for that effort have just collected the necessary number of petition signatures to get the proposal on the ballot.

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