Florida House Advances 15-week Abortion Ban to the Senate

Florida House Advances 15-week Abortion Ban to the Senate
People hold placards as they protest against Florida's 15-week abortion ban in front of the office of State Senator Ileana Garcia, in Coral Gables, Fla., on Jan. 21, 2022. (Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

PUNTA GORDA, Florida–Two minutes after midnight, on Feb. 17, the Florida House voted to advance legislation that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape and incest. The measure is headed to the Florida Senate and, if approved, will land on the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has signaled that he would sign.

The measure was approved 78–39 following five hours of sometimes emotional debate, and after protesters forced a brief recess with chants of “my body, my choice” echoing off the gallery walls as they were escorted away.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and DeSantis have indicated they would support the bill. And, with a Republican majority, it is expected to pass.

“I am supportive of 15 weeks,” the governor stated at a Jan. 19 press conference. “I think that’s very reasonable and very consistent with being supportive of protecting life. We’ll work with them as they kind of get through that process–I think that’ll be something we’ll be able to sign and I think a lot of people would be happy with that.”

Over the years, abortion bans have failed in Florida, with some never making it out of committee.  Currently, Florida law allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

The bill does not provide exceptions for rape and incest, but does allow for a fetus that is found to have a “fatal fetal abnormality.” The condition would have to be certified by two doctors.

Also, the legislation would allow for an abortion if it is deemed “necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life” or avert serious bodily injury.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shared personal—at times visibly painful—stories of how abortion had affected their lives.

State Rep. Kristen Aston Arrington, a Democrat, said she was “raped by someone she knew.” She asked others in attendance how the limitations could affect other women who are raped.

State Rep. Robin Bartleman, also a Democrat, shared how she and her husband “wrestled with a difficult decision” when an abnormality was detected during her pregnancy.

“Floridians won’t be able to make their own decisions if they face a similar medical complication,” Bartleman said during discussion of the bill.

“When you get that news, you and your husband and your family have no decision,” she said. “It is taken away from you because of an arbitrary number—15 weeks.”

State Rep. Dana Trabulsy, a Republican, said she had been raped and supports the “right to life,” even though she had an abortion when she was younger and it “still affects her to this day.”

“It is something I have regretted every day since,“ she said. ”I am ashamed, because I will never get to know the unborn child I could have had.”

While Democrats argued that abortion is “an established woman’s right” under both the U.S. and Florida constitutions, their Republican counterparts maintained that abortion is the “taking of human life.”

“We should trust the women of Florida to make this decision,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat. “This is not something with which the government should be involved.”

House Republicans rejected proposed amendments that would have added exemptions for rape, incest, and human trafficking. Democrats also tried to reduce—from two to one—the number of doctors who must sign off on any abortion after 15 weeks, without success.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Erin Grall, said she thought the debate involved more than just a woman’s “choice to have an abortion,” when her speech was interrupted by chants in the gallery.

“Once a woman becomes pregnant, two uniquely independent human beings exist,” the Vero Beach Republican said. “I’ve never understood the ‘my body, my choice’ rhetoric when it comes to terminating a life.”

The abortion bill that was passed is modeled after the Mississippi abortion law that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on this summer. Florida’s proposed law does not go as far as the Texas law, which prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and “empowers Texas citizen to enforce the law through the court remedies.”

The Florida Constitution comprises privacy protections that have been interpreted in the past by the Florida Supreme Court as protecting a right to abortion. DeSantis has filled three of the seven seats with conservative judges who would hear any appeals to the new law, if it is passed.

The next stop for the bill is the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is set to take up the House version of the bill on Feb. 21, which is the last hearing before it goes to a full Senate vote.