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DeSantis signs 6-week abortion ban into law hours after House passage

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the legislation banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy on Thursday, April 13, 2023, after the Florida House passed the bill.
News Service of Florida
In an image posted on social media by Gov. Ron DeSantis late Thursday, the governor signs the legislation known as the "Heartbeat Protection Act," which bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Even with the governor's signing, the bill's future is contingent on a state Supreme Court ruling on last year's 15-week ban. The signing came late Thursday after an all-day emotional debate and passage in the House.

Moving quickly on what supporters call the Heartbeat Protection Act, Gov. Ron DeSantis late Thursday signed a bill that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

DeSantis’ office announced the signing about 11 p.m., several hours after the House gave final approval to the bill (SB 300), one of the most-controversial issues of this year’s legislative session.

The Republican-controlled House voted 70-40 to pass the six-week limit (SB 300), which also was approved April 3 by the Senate.

“We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a statement. "I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families.”

However, Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called it a “devastating day for Floridians and especially for Florida’s women.”

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Floridians and Americans overwhelmingly oppose abortion bans, and tonight Gov. DeSantis further proved that point by signing Florida's most extreme abortion ban into law near midnight and behind closed doors,” Eskamani said in a statement. “His sick and sad attempt to avoid public backlash will not work. We will organize, mobilize and continue to build a coalition of Floridians and Americans who oppose abortion bans and respect bodily autonomy.”

Moving forward with the law, however, is contingent on the outcome of a state Supreme Court challenge by seven abortion clinics and a physician that centers on whether a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution protects abortion rights.

DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president in 2024, and the Republican-controlled Legislature last year approved a 15-week abortion limit. But that came before a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, refueling debates in Florida and across the country about abortion rights.

It is unclear when the court will rule on the challenge, though it probably will be after the legislative session.

Republicans have long argued that the privacy clause was never intended to protect abortion rights and that the Supreme Court should back away from legal precedents on the issue. If that happens, the six-week limit would be able to move forward.

Lawyers for the House and Senate filed a friend-of-the-court brief this week that said the Supreme Court “should revisit its misguided abortion precedents” on the privacy-clause issue.

“(The) Legislature submits this brief to highlight where this court’s abortion jurisprudence went astray, and to urge the court to return the Legislature to its rightful constitutional role as the primary policymaking branch of government,” the brief said.

The House held an all-day, often-emotional debate on the bill that was interrupted by protesters supporting abortion rights. The outbursts led to the House clearing a public gallery, with the debate playing out before rows of empty seats.

Supporters of the bill said it would protect life and that fetal heartbeats can be detected at six weeks of pregnancy.

“Life begins at conception,” Rep. Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, said. “Thank God that our mothers, all of us in this room, did not choose to end the life of us when we were in the womb. That is the most vulnerable place for babies, and they deserve to be protected.”

Rep. Chase Tramont, R-Port Orange, said, “We value life from conception to the casket.”

“Either you value life or we don’t,” Tramont said. “I mean, it really is that simple. We value life, or we don’t.”

Abortion rights supporters protested a bill that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Tallahassee.
Tom Urban
News Service of Florida
Abortion rights supporters protested a bill that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Tallahassee.

Opponents said the bill would be a virtual ban on abortions because many women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks. They said the state should not dictate personal decisions about issues such as whether to have abortions.

“Enough is enough,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said. “It is time that we listen to women, that we trust women, that we trust families and allow them to make these most intimate decisions of home and heart, without Tallahassee politicians looking over their shoulders.”

Also, the bill’s opponents argued that abortion is health care.

“That decision should be yours, your families, your doctors and your faith, and not politicians,” Eskamani said. “We (lawmakers) should have no say in this personal, private decision that impacts so many people in our state.”

In addition to the six-week limit, the bill includes other proposed changes, such as requiring that abortion-inducing medication be provided in person by physicians and not through the mail. Also, the bill would prevent abortions from being provided through telehealth and would expand services provided through organizations that counsel women against abortions.

Last year’s 15-week law drew criticism because it does not include exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

The new bill would allow abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking, but it would require women to present documentation to prove they were victims. Such documentation could include restraining orders, police reports or medical records.

In a last ditch move to delay the bill's passage in the House, Democrats filed dozens of amendments to the proposal, all of which were rejected by Republicans.

“Women's health and their personal right to choose is being stolen," said Rep. Felicia Simone Robinson, D-Miami Gardens. "So I ask: Is Florida truly a free state?"

Thursday’s vote was largely along party lines, with Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, Rep. Karen Gonzalez Pittman, R-Tampa, Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, R-Highland Beach, Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, Rep. Vicki Lopez, R-Miami, and Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, who sponsored the House version of the bill, gives closing remarks after hours of emotional debate and before the House vote on Thursday, April 13, 2023. Looking on is Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland.
Facebook/ State Rep. Spencer Roach
State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, a sponsor of the House version of the six-week abortion ban bill, gives closing remarks after hours of emotional debate and before the House vote on Thursday, April 13, 2023. Looking on is Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland.

The measure has wider implications for abortion access throughout the South after the overturning of Roe v. Wade and leaving decisions about abortion access to states. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, while Georgia forbids the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected, which is around six weeks.

“We have the opportunity to lead the national debate about the importance of protecting life and giving every child the opportunity to be born and find his or her purpose," said Fort Myers Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, one of the bill's sponsors.

Abortion bans are popular among some religious conservatives who are part of the GOP voting base, but the issue has motivated many others to vote for Democrats. Republicans in recent weeks and months have suffered defeats in elections centered on abortion access in states such as Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.