Gov. Ron DeSantis went to church Thursday to sign a 15-week abortion ban into law during a ceremony bearing many of the accoutrements of a worship service.
“We are there to defend those who can’t defend themselves,” the governor told an enthusiastic crowd at the Nacion de Fe church in Kissimmee.
“This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union immediately promised to challenge the law in court.
“Make no mistake: If this abortion ban goes into effect, it would have devastating consequences for pregnant people, especially those who are not able to afford to travel out of state in search of the essential health care they need,” legislative director Kara Gross said in a written statement.
“Nobody should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will. We will take swift legal action to protect Floridians’ rights and defend against this cruel attack on our bodily autonomy.”
The new law (HB 5) bans abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest, although they would be allowed in cases of severe fetal abnormality. Abortion rights advocates argue that it is blatantly unconstitutional under existing U.S. Supreme Court precedents including Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. The 15-week ban in Florida takes effect on July 1.
That gives the justices time to rule in a constitutional challenge to a similar law from Mississippi before they take their summer break around the end of June. That court’s new Republican supermajority is widely expected to uphold the Mississippi statute, either by overruling those precedents or trimming them into oblivion.
The Florida Supreme Court is also in play here. It ruled in 1989 that an abortion-consent law for minors was unconstitutional because it violated privacy provisions in the state Constitution. The new state Supreme Court, with three justices appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is far more conservative than the court that upheld the right to privacy and hasn’t by shy about overturning its own precedents.
The bill-signing event in Central Florida included a large, enthusiastic crowd that broke into cheers and waved signs saying, “Pro Life.” It featured witness testimony from women who’d undergone abortions and regretted it and others who’d refused abortions and did not regret it.
The ceremony stood in stark contrast to two years ago, when DeSantis announced that he’d signed an abortion parental-consent bill via a press release that tucked it among 14 separate pieces of legislation while holding a public bill-signing ceremony for two water-quality measures.
On Thursday, there was much talk of prayer, including from Erin Grall, a Republican representing Indian River and part of St. Lucie counties who sponsored the legislation in the House. She thanked people who prayed for her as the legislation advanced during the recent legislative session and those “who are praying every day to end the horrific abortions that plague our country.”
Grall, an attorney, referred to those U.S. Supreme Court precedents during the bill-signing ceremony.
“The reality of the Roe decision is that men on the Supreme Court proclaimed that women, in order to achieve equality with men, must be able to kill their own children. As a woman, I refuse to accept such a perverse version of equality,” Grall said.
Senate sponsor Kelli Stargel, representing portions of Lake and Polk counties, remarked that “we’re looking at the potential of Roe v. Wade being overturned,” adding, “hopefully, in the future, there will be no abortions.”
Also on hand were Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who called DeSantis “the most pro-life governor in America.” So, too, was Simone Marstiller, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates abortion clinics.
Sprowls continued: “Like many of you, I believe that life is a gift from God. And, as I look out into this audience, I see many familiar faces who have been warriors on the front lines of the life movement, whether it is … ministering to young women, whether it is helping them as they give birth to their child in pregnancy centers across this state. You have been a part of this as much as every single legislator here and for that we are very grateful.
Reaction was swift.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, running in the Democratic primary to oppose DeSantis this fall, issued a written statement:
“This law is a despicable and disgusting assault on women. It’s an insult to our dignity and our ability to make these deeply personal decisions about our own lives, and it will have a devastating impact on the physical and emotional health of women across Florida,” Fried said.
“The hypocrisy of Republicans who love to brag about how ‘free’ our state is while pushing a law that will literally force women and girls to give birth is absolutely outrageous. This law is a direct attack on women’s constitutional rights, and it’s cruel, extreme, and inhumane,” Fried said.
On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, also in the Democratic primary, called the law “an unconstitutional attack on women that strips away their reproductive freedom. Women should make decisions about their own bodies, not governors. I’d veto this bill and any attempt to restrict the right to choose. Full stop.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, another Democrat running for governor, issued her own written statement.
“We are less free today than before the session started,” it reads.
“As Latin American countries like Colombia are moving forward and expanding access to health care, we’re moving backward in Florida. Gov. DeSantis has just signed into law an extreme bill that was made even crueler by the rejections to provide exemptions for victims of rape, human trafficking, and incest.”
Not ‘moderate or fair’
Lauren Book of Broward County, leader of the Senate Democrats, said DeSantis had “forced the women of Florida back 50 years,” before Roe.
“This is not a “moderate” or fair bill if a woman or girl must live with the consequence of someone else’s actions, revictimized by the decisions of Florida’s right-wing GOP,” she said in a written statement.
“Without access to safe and legal procedures, a woman’s life and her liberty are severely endangered. This is nothing more than an authoritarian move by Florida Republicans. Florida will never be free while lawmakers turn a blind eye to women’s rights, victims’ rights, and to the decent and basic needs of our citizens.
However, Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, offered praise.
“This truly historic law will annually save an estimated 5,000 unborn children from being murdered here in Florida via brutal late-term abortions. Florida Voice for the Unborn anticipates that any legal challenges to the legislation – whether brought in federal or state court – will ultimately be unsuccessful,” Shirvell said in a written statement.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix