As the 2023 legislative session began Tuesday, Senate and House Republicans proposed measures that seek to prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
The bills (SB 300 and HB 7), filed by Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, came after the Republican-controlled Legislature last year passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bills also will make abortion one of the most-contentious issues of the 60-day legislative session.
During remarks to the House to open the session, Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, alluded to abortion but did not specifically mention the bill.
“Our ability to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness began with life,” Renner said in his prepared remarks. “We must defend the right to life for thousands of boys and girls who deserve to experience life, find love and enrich the lives of others.”
But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, issued a statement blasting the proposed six-week limit.
“Florida Republicans have once again demonstrated a complete disregard for the women of our state and for our collective freedoms,” Eskamani said. “As we’ve already seen in other states, a six-week ban is extreme, dangerous and will force millions of people out of state to seek care and others will be forced into pregnancy. Most people do not even know they are pregnant until after six weeks, so this six-week ban might as well be a complete ban.”
The Florida Supreme Court in January agreed to take up a constitutional challenge by seven abortion clinics and a doctor to the 15-week abortion 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.
Much of the bills would be contingent on the Supreme Court effectively upholding the 15-week law. For example, they say the six-week limit would take effect with a Supreme Court decision “receding” from legal precedents about abortion or “holding that the right to privacy enshrined in ,,, the State Constitution does not include a right to abortion.”
In addition to the constitutional issues, the 15-week limit has drawn criticism because it does not include exemptions for victims of rape or incest.
The bills would allow abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, but they would require women to present proof that they were victims.
“At the time the woman schedules or arrives for her appointment for a termination of pregnancy, she must provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation proving that she is obtaining the termination of pregnancy because she is a victim of rape or incest,” the House bill says. “If the woman is a minor, the physician must report the incident of rape or incest to the central abuse hotline.”
The Senate version includes the same proof requirements, though with slightly different wording.
During a news conference after his State of the State address, DeSantis called the exceptions “sensible, and we welcome pro-life legislation.”
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said she supports the bill with the exceptions.
“My biggest concern has always been the exception for rape and incest, fetal death and the life of the mother,” Passidomo said. “That is my number one priority, and that’s why I support the bill. It’s in the bill.”
The Supreme Court is not expected to rule until after the legislative session on the 15-week abortion limit. The plaintiffs filed an initial brief in late February, and the state will file its first brief in late March. The plaintiffs then will have 30 days to file what is known as a reply brief.
That would mean it would be late April before all three briefs are filed — and the order indicated the state might have another 30 days to file a “cross-reply” brief. The legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.
–Jim Saunders, Tom Urban, News Service of Florida