In what would be a monumental change, the Florida Senate on Monday passed a proposal aimed at preventing abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 26-13 to approve the bill (SB 300), which will go to the House, where it is expected to pass. It comes after the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling and left abortion decisions to the states.
The bill touched off heavy debate Monday that was interrupted by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, ordering the clearing of the Senate seating gallery because of repeated outbursts from audience members opposed to the bill.
Bill sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said the bill supports a “culture of life” and that fetal heartbeats can be detected at six weeks of pregnancy.
“We have to rely on science, and what we know is that there is a heartbeat, there is a human life that exists, and we are either going to stand for life or not,” Grall said. “And this life deserves protecting.”
But Democrats said the bill would effectively ban abortion in Florida, in part because many women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks. Opponents said it jeopardizes the health of women and that the government shouldn’t be involved in abortion decisions.
“We need to stop stigmatizing and shaming women for having an abortion. The vast majority of those abortions are very thought out. The women don’t have regrets. They do what they need to do to move on with their lives.” Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, said. “This bill is cruel and inhumane to the families of Florida.”
The vote was along almost straight party lines, with Sen. Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, and Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, joining Democrats in opposing the bill.
Lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis last year passed a 15-week abortion limit But that came before the June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
The proposed six-week limit includes a major caveat: Seven abortion clinics and a physician filed a constitutional challenge to the 15-week limit. 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.
Under the Senate bill, moving to a six-week limit would be contingent on the Florida Supreme Court effectively upholding the 15-week law. It is unclear when the court will rule on the challenge, though it probably will be after the legislative session.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office last week filed a brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to reject legal precedents that said the privacy right in the Constitution applies to abortion.
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 has drawn 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.
Florida lawmakers in recent years have gradually increased restrictions on abortions, but the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year opened the door for consideration of a six-week limit.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said Monday the Senate was choosing to force an “extremist agenda” to essentially ban abortion in the state. She also described the issue as a war.
“We must all take up the fight, because this was never about life,” Book said. “It is and it always has been about control.”
But supporters of the bill said they are trying to protect life.
“We are bombarded with messages that abortion is essential for a woman’s autonomy and that it should be celebrated as a right,” Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, said. “However, we must not lose sight of the fact that abortion takes a human life.”
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.