Florida lawmakers send 15-week abortion ban to Gov. Ron DeSantis
The governor is expected to sign the measure
Florida lawmakers on Thursday voted to approve a 15-week abortion ban that shortens by more than two months the current window available to legally terminate a pregnancy.
The 24-15 party-line vote in the Senate came after more than six hours of discussion and debate over two days. The measure cleared the Florida House last month on a 78-39 vote and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it.
"I think it's a great day," Senate President Wilton Simpson said about lawmakers approving Florida's most restrictive abortion regulations (HB 5) since the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision established abortion as a constitutional right in 1973.
More coverage from the USA TODAY Network-Florida:
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"For the first time in many years, you’re going to have a bill that I believe will be tolerated (by) the U.S. Supreme Court," Simpson told reporters.
Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, sponsored the measure and said it mirrors a Mississippi law that is now before the nation's high court.
"I never dreamed I'd be here today ... actually being able to save the lives of babies that are past 15 weeks of gestation," Stargel told her fellow lawmakers. "God is so good."
How did lawmakers vote? See who voted for and against abortion bill
Doctor who violates Florida's abortion ban faces 5 years in prison
If a physician violates the ban, they would be guilty of a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The bill makes exceptions only in cases where the mother is at risk of death or "irreversible physical impairment," or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality.
Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate defeated amendments that would have made exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking and mental health.
"After 15 weeks, that is a child. And so the argument is, should you kill a baby after 15 weeks because it was (conceived) under certain circumstances?" Simpson said.
Democrats pushed back at Republicans' assertions that a fetus has achieved personhood and that abortion is equivalent to the taking of human life.
"As much as a fetus may look like a baby in a sonogram, it is not a life until it is able to survive on its own and that is established under the law," said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Plantation, a lawyer.
Farmer, a father of two daughters, said it was simply wrong for a male-dominated legislative body to make a "decree" about a woman's body. "We will never know what it feels like," he said.
And Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Miami called abortion restrictions a "control mechanism and an affront to every woman's individual freedom and independence."
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expected to sign abortion bill
When it was introduced in January, DeSantis said a ban on abortion after 15 weeks is “a good idea.”
If the bill becomes law, it's widely expected to be challenged in court.
Until now, a privacy provision in the Florida Constitution that guarantees a right to be let alone by the government has blocked abortion restrictions.
But that provision is grounded in the legal finding of a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus achieves viability, the ability to survive outside the womb, which the court set at 24 weeks.
Advocates for a woman's right to an abortion fear the U.S. Supreme Court signaled it was willing to alter the legal landscape for abortion when it agreed to hear the so-called Dobbs case about the Mississippi law.
Abortion law scholar Mary Ziegler has told the USA TODAY Network-Florida Capital Bureau that the justices went looking for an opportunity to reopen Roe. There is no split in lower court decisions or conflict in state statutes for the justices to resolve in Dobbs, said Ziegler, a Florida State University law professor.
Three of them were picked by former President Donald Trump, she noted, who "promised to pick, in his words, ‘pro-life justices,' " she added.
The Florida law, which would go into effect July 1, would significantly reduce access to late-term abortions. Currently, North Carolina is the only other southern state to permit an abortion after 15 weeks.
The bill galvanized opponents into a coalition that staged numerous rallies in Tallahassee and marched on the state Capitol three times in the past nine weeks.
Planned Parenthood of Florida, the ACLU of Florida, Florida Rising, the Florida Access Network and student groups from Florida State and Florida A&M universities vowed to make abortion access an issue in the 2022 mid-term election and target lawmakers who supported the bill.
But Simpson, also a candidate in November for state Agriculture Commissioner, dismissed any concerns about voters reacting at the ballot box: "When you do the right thing, the blowback is the blowback."
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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