Sunday, September 24, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Sunday, September 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Florida lawmakers pass six-week abortion ban

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law as part of his expansive culture wars agenda.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) — After hours of emotional debate and outbursts from protesters, the Florida Senate passed a ban on abortions after six weeks of gestation on Monday, less than a year after the state instituted a 15-week abortion ban.

Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the measure after a companion bill passes the Republican-majority Florida House as soon as this week.

The Heartbeat Protection Act prohibits doctors from performing an abortion or providing a pill to induce the end of a pregnancy after six weeks, with some exceptions for rape, incest and those victimized by human trafficking. If the bill becomes law, Florida will join several adjacent states that have severely restricted abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, forcing women to travel outside the southern United States for the procedure.

“Let’s be honest,” said Democratic state Senator Tina Scott Polsky. “This is a ban on abortion.”

“I know many of you fundamentally believe abortion is wrong,” she continued. “You know what? No one is forcing you to have an abortion. But don’t tell me, my daughter or all the daughters of Florida that they can’t if it’s right for them.”

Polsky and other Democrats in the Senate noted that many women would not know they are pregnant until they miss their menstrual cycle, giving them a very short window to have the procedure.

“If anything, I think the six-week ban will encourage women to make a snap decision,” Polsky said. “If they had more time, maybe they would try to keep the baby.”

Although the bill allows for exemptions for rape and incest – a provision not included in last year’s 15-week ban – women would have to prove they were victims through police records or court documents.

Senator Lori Berman, a Democrat from South Florida, said the bill should be called, “Get ready for your sons to go to jail.”

“Let’s say you have a child under 18 who is pregnant, you are going to have to say they are a victim of rape in order for them to get an abortion,” she said. “So, I think the boys of this state better be prepared.”

Republicans on the Senate floor largely brought up their moral convictions.

“Abortion is not just a medical procedure, but it’s also a moral issue that affects society,” said Republican Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez of Miami. “For far too long, abortion has been accepted by some as just another form of medical care. The media, the entertainment industry and pro-choice activists have worked together to normalize abortion in our society."

Protesters repeatedly interrupted Rodriguez’s comments with screams of “Women will die!” The visibly flustered Rodriguez struggled to finish.

“But we must not lose sight that abortion takes a human life,” she said. “The unborn child is a living human being and it deserves the same rights as any other individual.”

After protesters interrupted another pro-life senator, Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo took a 10-minute recess to clear the gallery.

“We’ve heard women will continue to have abortions and that may be true,” said Republican Senator Erin Grall, who sponsored the bill. “But that’s like saying that people will continue to murder people, people will continue to rape people, people will continue to do drugs, people will continue to break laws that we pass."

“We know that,” she continued. “But that does not mean we don’t decide as a body that laws should exist in our country?”

Minutes later, the Senate passed the bill mostly along party lines, 26-13, with one Republican dissenting and another absent.

If signed by DeSantis, the law would only take effect if last year’s 15-week abortion ban clears the courts. Last year, Leon County Judge John Cooper blocked the law. The state then asked the Florida Supreme Court, made up of a majority of DeSantis appointees, to take up the issue. A decision is expected this year. Even then, the six-week abortion ban will almost certainly be met by another slew of legal challenges.

The abortion issue is just one of a far-reaching conservative agenda championed by DeSantis ahead of his expected 2024 presidential run. Halfway through Florida’s legislative session, the Republican governor has already claimed victories with school choice, tort reform, and most recently, gun rights.

On Monday, in a closed-door ceremony, DeSantis signed a permitless concealed carry law that allows legal gun owners to carry firearms nearly anywhere without the previously required permit and safety course. Florida joins 25 other states with similar “constitutional carry” laws.

The law does not change current statutes requiring a three-day background check to purchase a gun and prohibiting felons from carrying firearms. The measure takes effect on July 1.

"This is a momentous step in the constitutional carry movement as now the majority of American states recognize the Constitution protects the right for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves outside their homes without fees or permits,” said Randy Kozuch, interim executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement condemning the law.

“It is shameful that so soon after another tragic school shooting, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a permitless concealed carry bill behind closed doors, which eliminates the need to get a license to carry a concealed weapon,” she said. “This is the opposite of commonsense gun safety.  The people of Florida – who have paid a steep price for state and congressional inaction on guns from Parkland to Pulse Nightclub to Pine Hills – deserve better.”

During a book signing event last week, DeSantis hinted he may even expand the law to allow open carry of firearms in the state.

After he was asked if he would call a special session to pass an open carry bill, DeSantis said, “If I can get the votes.”

Follow @
Categories / Government, Health, Law, Politics, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.