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A Florida Senate panel advances a measure to ban most abortions at 6 weeks

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Supporters of the six-week limit have described it as a “heartbeat” bill “... We know life is present, we have an obligation to protect it,” says Senate sponsor Erin Grall.

The GOP-controlled Committee on Health Policy approved the Senate version of the bill after listening to people on both sides of the debate.

A Florida bill that would limit most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy began moving forward in the state Senate on Monday.

The bill (SB 300) cleared the Senate's Republican-controlled Committee on Health Policy while several amendments brought by the panel's three Democratic members failed.

Under proposal, moving to a six-week limit would be contingent on the Florida Supreme Court effectively upholding the 15-week law. A decision may not come until the legislative session ends in May.

A key issue in that case is whether the limit violates a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution that has helped protect abortion rights in the state for more than three decades.

Supporters of the six-week limit have described it as a “heartbeat” bill because they say fetal heartbeats can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy.

“The point of this bill is that when we know life is present, we have an obligation to protect it,” Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said.

But Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said a six-week limit would effectively ban abortion and threaten the health of women and girls.

“Women’s lives are being put at risk,” Book said. “What are we doing?”

During public comment, the majority of speakers urged the committee to reject the bill. Od'Juan Whitfield is with Faith in Public Life, a clergy-based advocacy group that supports social justice issues.

"I'm wearing black today because I'm mourning all the women that will die because of this bill," Whitfield said. "And let it be known that Florida will not be a place where woke comes to die but it will be a place where women die."

But several speakers, including Andrew Shirvell, representing Florida Voice for the Unborn, said the six-week limit does not go far enough.

"Please amend this bill and protect all unborn children from the moment of conception, without exception," Shirvell said.

Unlike the 15-week law, the six-week proposal includes exceptions for victims of rape or incest up until 15 weeks of pregnancy, but only with documentation that a crime was committed.

Dr. Karen Harris of Gainesville, an OB-GYN and a member of Florida's maternal mortality review committee, said the state's current law places gynecologists in a difficult position when caring for patients with complex medical issues.

"Many patients do not know they have a life-endangering condition until they present for prenatal care, usually well beyond the sixth week of pregnancy," Harris said. "Who defines 'conditions that affect maternal life and health?' How much risk is enough risk to end a pregnancy? How much risk of death?"

A House version (HB 7) received an initial approval last week from its Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.