The Florida House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation that would ban most abortions after six weeks, when many women don’t know they are pregnant.
The bill passed by a vote of 70 to 40, largely along party lines. The measure now goes to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.
He reiterated his support for tighter abortion restrictions just last month, saying, “We welcome pro-life legislation.”
The bill would only take effect if the state’s existing 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge that is before the state Supreme Court. The Republican governor last February signed that ban, which has no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.
The legislation would make performing an abortion after the six-week limit a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
But it includes exceptions for cases of rape and incest up to the 15th week of pregnancy as determined by a physician. In those cases, a woman would have to provide documentation such as a medical record, a restraining order or a police report to prove she is a victim.
DeSantis last month called those and rape and incest provisions “sensible.”
The bill also allows abortion in severe medical emergencies. But only on the condition that two physicians certify in writing that an abortion is necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life or avoid a serious risk of substantial and “irreversible physical impairment” to a bodily function. A single physician can make that call if a second isn’t available for consultation.
Abortion is also allowed up to the third trimester in cases where a fetus has a fatal abnormality, but two physicians must certify that in writing.
A six-week limit would more closely align the state with the abortion restrictions of other GOP-controlled states. It would effectively end Florida’s reputation as a safe haven for people from other Southern states who are seeking an abortion.
The measure could also give DeSantis a potential political boost among Republican voters ahead of a possible 2024 presidential run.
Ahead of the vote, Republican lawmakers echoed long-standing conservative views on abortion.
Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka said the bill would save lives, pointing to the more than 82,000 abortions recorded in Florida last year.
“Today we stand for life, we stand with mothers, and we stand with Florida families,” said Persons-Mulicka. “We can change the culture of abortion to a culture of life.”
State Democrats have lambasted the bill since it was introduced early last month. The Florida Senate’s vote to pass the legislation last week prompted demonstrations at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, which resulted in the arrest of two Democratic state lawmakers.
Other Democratic officials slammed the bill on the House floor ahead of the vote.
“Abortion is health care,” Rep. Kelly Skidmore said three consecutive times. “This bill denies it to millions of Floridians. This is a dangerous bill. We are never going to agree on that.”
“What you are doing is you are telling every Floridian that they have to live the way you want them to live, not the way that they want to live,” she continued. “Stay out of my business.”
Rep. Robin Bartleman similarly said, “The right to bodily autonomy is an innate right.”
“My body is mine. We do not want unclear laws and muddy waters,” Bartleman said.
A recent survey suggests the six-week abortion ban isn’t popular among Florida residents. Roughly 75% of more than 1,400 people said they either somewhat or strongly opposed the ban, according to a University of North Florida poll released in March.
The bill comes as a messy legal battle over the abortion pill mifepristone heats up. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overnight froze part of a Texas judge’s order that would have suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone.
The Biden administration will ask the Supreme Court to intervene, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday.
The Florida measure also represents a broader shift in the legal fight over abortion rights in the U.S. after the Supreme Court in June last year overturned the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling. After that decision, abortion rights were largely left up to individual states.
Some states rushed to ban the procedure completely, while others gradually rolled out new restrictions. Most abortions are now banned in more than a dozen states, including Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Oklahoma.