Gov. DeSantis signs six-week abortion ban into law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill into law that would prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, setting up a showdown at the state Supreme Court that could determine the future of abortion rights in the state.

The Republican-controlled House voted 70-40 to pass the six-week limit (SB 300) on Thursday, which also was approved on April 3 by the Senate 26-13. 

Moving forward with the six-week limit, however, is contingent on the outcome of a pending Supreme Court case that centers on whether a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution protects abortion rights.

The bill, dubbed the "Heartbeat Protection Act," sparked an all-day, often-emotional debate in the House 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."

But 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," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. "We (lawmakers) should have no say in this personal, private decision that impacts so many people in our state."

Lawmakers and DeSantis 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.

Whether the six-week limit takes effect will be determined by how the Florida Supreme Court decides a challenge to last year’s 15-week law.

Seven abortion clinics and a physician filed a lawsuit arguing the 15-week limit violates a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution that has protected abortion rights since a 1989 Supreme Court decision. Under this year’s bill, moving to a six-week limit would be contingent on the 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.

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.

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.

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.