Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature passed a ban on most abortions after six weeks Thursday, sending the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said he would sign it.
After the Senate cleared it on April 3, the state House held a marathon floor hearing and passed the plan mostly along party lines in a 70-40 vote.
Democrats in the chamber spoke out strongly against the bill but were heavily outnumbered by Republican supermajorities in both chambers. Protesters threw what seemed to be paper onto the House floor, forcing GOP House Speaker Paul Renner to close the public viewing galleries.
It capped off a hugely contentious process to pass the legislation, SB 300, which DeSantis has signaled support for, but it puts him in a tricky political position. He is considering a 2024 bid for president, but most public polling shows a six-week abortion ban is unpopular among both political parties.
At the same time, entering a Republican presidential primary after vetoing or opposing legislation to expand abortion restrictions risks contradicting a core element of the Republican platform.
Abortions would be prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy, with new exceptions for rape and incest up to 15 weeks. The bill would not affect the current law’s exceptions for the mother’s life and health up to 15 weeks.
Republican state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo requested the new exclusions, which fellow Republicans approved. The law also contains $25 million in funding to enhance Florida Pregnancy Care Network Inc., a statewide nonprofit organization network that provides pregnancy care services.
The proposal has been the subject of protests and outbursts since it was filed on March 7, shortly before DeSantis gave his State of the State address on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session.
Last week, as the Senate debated the measure on the floor, Passidomo was forced to remove the public gallery overlooking her chamber due to a series of outbursts from opponents.
That night, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried and state Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book were among roughly a dozen people arrested outside Tallahassee City Hall, which is adjacent to the State Capitol. A group of demonstrators staged a multiday protest in front of a courthouse across the street from the Capitol in the days leading up to the House vote.
Many issues voiced during the bill’s three prior committee stops were repeated during the more than seven hours of floor debate.
“There is nothing I am saying that will change the hearts and minds of my friends on the other side of the aisle,” Republican Rep. Chase Tramont said. “That’s not what this is about. This is about holding up the flagship commitment I made … which is to give voice to the voiceless.”
Democrats said the proposal would further infringe on a person’s right to choose and have negative impacts on their health care.
“The right to bodily autonomy is an innate right,” Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman said. “My body is mine. We do not want unclear laws and muddy waters.”
Since the United States Supreme Court ruled in June that there is no constitutional right to an abortion — a legal challenge stemming from Mississippi’s passage of a 15-week abortion ban — women throughout the Southeast have been flocking to Florida for abortions after neighboring states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama outlawed them.
According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, out-of-state women seeking abortions in Florida jumped from 3,988 in 2020 to 6,708 in 2022. Over the same year, the number of abortions in the state increased from 74,868 to 82,192.
“Here in Florida, we take care of patients within the state of Florida, as well as many people traveling not only from nearby states but from much further away,” said Dr. Shelly Tien of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
“I have seen patients from places as far away as places like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi,” she said. “Those patients are living at or near poverty.”
She resisted the notion that Florida is an “abortion haven” simply because the practice is still legal, adding that legislation limiting access has been passed annually.
“To me, a haven is a place of protection, safety, and justice,” she said.
The six-week ban will be put on hold after signed into law, pending a judgment from the Florida Supreme Court on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban signed into law by DeSantis after the state’s 2022 legislative session. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a group of abortion providers sued, claiming that the state constitution’s privacy clauses safeguard the right to an abortion.
“The 15-week abortion ban is still awaiting a hearing in the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether it is a legally based bill,” Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Hinson said. “I wonder how much Florida money is being spent on legal fees to defend that bill.”
Florida was one of a few Republican-led states that passed 15-week abortion prohibitions last year in preparation for a possible Supreme Court verdict.
DeSantis signed the 15-week ban at a bill-signing ceremony near Orlando in April 2022, which featured anti-abortion advocates and Republican legislators. In February, he said “We will sign” when asked at a news conference whether he would approve the six-week abortion ban, but he has not been the face of the legislative effort.
It has been chiefly spearheaded by Republican Sen. Erin Grall, the primary sponsor of the last session’s six- and 15-week bans.
Recent polling finds the six-week abortion ban is not widespread among Florida residents of either political party. A University of North Florida poll in March found 75% of 1,452 respondents said they either somewhat or strongly opposed the six-week ban. That included 61% of Republicans.
In the same poll, DeSantis led former President Donald Trump by 52% to 27% among registered Republicans in a potential 2024 presidential battle, with no other contender breaking double digits.
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