Ron DeSantis has contradicted the wording of the six-week abortion ban that he himself signed into law in April, insisting that women who terminate their pregnancies will not be criminalized under the prohibition.

The Florida governor and Republican White House hopeful told CBS Evening News that women would not be liable for fines and imprisonment under the ban. Only doctors who perform abortions would be targeted.

“We have no criminal penalty. The penalties are for the physician,” he said.

Yet the wording of SB 300 is written broadly enough that it could be interpreted as applying not only to doctors but also to pregnant women. It says that “any person who willfully performs, or actively participates in a termination of pregnancy” in violation of the new law can be charged with a felony.

DeSantis was asked by CBS News whether a woman was not “actively participating” in the termination of her pregnancy. He replied: “No, because she’s not a medical practitioner.”

Florida’s six-week abortion ban, which state Republicans refer to by the medically misleading title the “heartbeat protection act”, is currently on hold as it faces a legal challenge before the state supreme court. While those legal proceedings are ongoing, an earlier 15-week abortion ban is in operation.

DeSantis’s protestations that women were safe under the pending ban, and its contradiction with possible interpretations of the legislation, speaks to the dual standards that many Republicans have applied to this issue. They strive to appear as tough on abortion as possible, to appeal to the hard-right base of their party, while at the same time trying to appear moderate so as not to alienate the general voters, especially women.

“Ron DeSantis may try to pull the wool over voters’ eyes, but Floridians know that he’ll stop at nothing to ban abortion and punish the people who have them,” Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, told the Guardian. “He has signed two devastating abortion bans, and he did that without any thought of the consequences for Floridians and their families.”

Goodhue added that while the abortion ban does not explicitly criminalize those seeking care, it has already created a dangerous climate for them.

“Floridians in need of abortion have reported being afraid to seek help from their loved ones or to leave the state for care where it is legal,” she said.

The six-week prohibition, introduced in the wake of the US supreme court’s decision to overturn the right to an abortion in its Dobbs ruling, has been criticised as extreme because at that stage many women do not even know that they are pregnant. The bill contains very limited exceptions, including to save the woman’s life.

Women wanting to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape or incest have until 15 weeks providing they can prove their claim with documentation.

The number of abortions performed in Florida in the first half of this year has increased compared with a similar period before Dobbs was introduced. The pattern is part of a significant nationwide uptick in abortion numbers compared with 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

DeSantis blamed the rise in abortions in his state on “abortion tourism”. Were the six-week ban allowed by the courts to replace the current 15-week ban, it would “probably stop the whole abortion tourism thing. We don’t want to be an abortion tourism destination.”

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