TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature on Thursday approved a ban on most abortions after six weeks, sending the controversial bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis. He he said he would sign the measure in law.
The final approval came after a marathon plenary hearing in the state House, which approved the proposal largely along party lines in a 70-40 vote after the state Senate approved the bill on April 3.
Democrats in the chamber strongly opposed the legislation, but were vastly outnumbered by the vast Republican majority in both chambers. Republican House Speaker Paul Renner had to close public viewing galleries after protesters threw what appeared to be papers on the House floor.
He wrapped up what has been a hugely contentious process to pass the legislation, SB 300, which DeSantis has shown his support for, but puts him in a difficult political position. He is considering a run for president in 2024, but most public polls show the six-week abortion ban is unpopular with both political parties.
At the same time, however, entering a Republican presidential primary after vetoing or opposing legislation that would expand abortion restrictions risks going against a key tenant of the Republican platform.
The measure prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with new exceptions for rape and incest up to 15 weeks. The measure does not modify the exceptions for the life and health of the mother up to 15 weeks that are found in the current law.
The new waivers were requested by Republican State Senate Speaker Kathleen Passidomo, and other Republicans accepted them. The bill also includes $25 million to expand Florida Pregnancy Care Network Inc., a statewide network of nonprofit organizations that provide pregnancy support services.
The proposal has been the subject of protests and outbursts since it was first introduced on March 7, shortly before DeSantis delivered his “State of the State” address on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session.
As the Florida State Senate considered the proposal on the floor last week, Passidomo also had to clear the public gallery overlooking his camera after a series of outbursts from opponents of the bill. He
That night, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and state Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book were among nearly a dozen people arrested while protesting the bill in front of Tallahassee City Hall, which adjoins the state capitol. Before the House vote, a group of protesters held a multi-day protest over the bill in front of a courthouse across the street from the Capitol.
The seven-plus-hour debate laid out many of the arguments during the bill’s previous three committee stops.
“There is nothing I am saying that will change the hearts and minds of my friends across the aisle,” said Republican state Rep. Chase Tramont. «It is not about that. It is about maintaining the main commitment I made… which is to give a voice to the voiceless”.
Democrats said the proposal further infringes on a person’s right to choose and will negatively impact their health care.
«The right to bodily autonomy is a birthright,» said Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman. «My body is mine. We don’t want unclear laws and murky waters.»
Since the US Supreme Court ruled in June 2022 that there is no constitutional right to abortion, a legal challenge that arose when Mississippi passed a 15-week abortion ban, Florida has become a place where women Southeastern flock to get abortions after neighboring states Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama banned the procedure.
Women seeking abortions in Florida from out of state increased from 3,988 in 2020 to 6,708 in 2022, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Overall, the number of abortions in the state grew from 74,868 to 82,192 during the same period.
“Here in Florida we see patients within the state of Florida, and a lot of people who travel not only from nearby states but also from states much further away,” said Shelly Tien, a doctor with Planned Parenthood Southeast.
«I’ve seen patients from as far away as Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi,» he added. «Those patients live in or near poverty.»
He rejected any idea that Florida is an «abortion haven» just because the procedure is still allowed in the state, noting that there have been yearly laws eroding access.
“For me, a shelter is a place of protection, security and justice,” he said.
Once signed into law, the six-week ban will be suspended pending a Florida Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban DeSantis enacted after the 2022 state legislative session. It was challenged in court by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of abortion providers. They argued that privacy provisions in the state constitution protect the right to abortion.
“The 15-week abortion ban is still awaiting a hearing in the Florida Supreme Court to determine if it is a bill with a legal basis,” said Democratic state representative Yvonne Hinson. «I wonder how much Florida money is spent on legal fees to try to defend that bill.»
Florida was among a handful of Republican-led states in 2022 that passed a 15-week abortion ban in anticipation of a possible Supreme Court ruling.
DeSantis signed the 15-week ban during a bill-signing ceremony near Orlando in April 2022, at an event attended by anti-abortion advocates and Republican lawmakers. In February, DeSantis said “we will sign” when asked at a news conference if he would approve the six-week abortion ban, but he has not been the face of the legislative effort.
That has been led, in large part, by state Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican who was the lead sponsor of the six-week and 15-week bans last session.
Recent polls show that the six-week abortion ban is not popular with Floridians of any political party. A University of North Florida poll in March showed that 75% of 1,452 respondents said they were somewhat or strongly opposed to the six-week ban. That included 61% of Republicans.
The same poll had DeSantis leading former President Donald Trump in a hypothetical 2024 presidential showdown 52%-27% with no other candidate breaking single digits.