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Florida bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Here's how to know how far along you are

Stomach of a pregnant person receiving an ultrasound. Computer screen in the background.
Alexander Raths - stock.adobe.co
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While Florida's law says gestational age is based off a pregnant person's last menstrual period, doctors often use ultrasounds to get a more accurate measurement when the patient has irregular periods or can't remember the date of their last one.

Doctors base gestational age off the first day of a patient's last menstrual period. But ultrasounds can also be used when that date isn't clear.

With Florida's 15-week abortion ban in place, determining how far along a pregnancy is has heightened importance for women and transgender or nonbinary people seeking the procedure.

The law says the gestational age of a fetus is determined by the first day of a pregnant person's last menstrual period, but that is not always clear.

“Because people, maybe they don't get a period because of a medical problem, maybe they're on birth control and they're not having periods or they just have periods every couple months,” explained Dr. Robyn Schickler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

An ultrasound can produce a more accurate measurement of gestational age, and Schickler said physicians will typically go with the ultrasound date if it differs greatly from when the patient estimates their last period occurred.

Patients frequently don’t realize how far along they are, and Schickler said that can now have serious consequences.

“I had a patient who came in thinking she would get the pill form of abortion, which you can do 11 weeks and earlier. She thought her period was basically eight weeks before, she got her ultrasound and she was a little over 16 weeks,” said Schickler. “So certainly with that, it's too discrepant to use her last menstrual period. So, of course, we had to refer her out, we were not able to take care of her.”

Planned Parenthood staff are helping connect patients past the 15-week deadline with abortion care in states where it’s legal.

Resources

Schickler is advising people who can get pregnant to do their best to track their menstrual cycles and keep pregnancy tests on hand at home if they’re concerned.

She recommends they make an appointment for an ultrasound quickly if they discover they’re pregnant so they have as much time as possible to plan how to move forward.

Pregnant patients seeking abortions who think their last menstrual period puts them close to the deadline should call reproductive health centers rather than make appointments online, Schickler said. Staff can then work to bring them in sooner.

You can reach Planned Parenthood by calling 1-800-230-7526.

Schickler stressed centers are still open and providing reproductive health care, including abortions, within the legal limits.

Planned Parenthood offers educational resources about abortion on its website.

The organization also offers tips on how to track menstrual cycles.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.