TALLAHASSEE — On the first day of Florida’s legislative session, two Republican lawmakers filed bills banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The measures, Senate Bill 146 and House Bill 5, would ban a physician from performing an abortion after 15 weeks unless the health of the mother is at risk, or if there is a “fatal fetal abnormality.” The bills would also require abortion providers to document the number of pregnancies terminated by medications and submit that figure to the Agency for Health Care Administration monthly.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, filed the bills on Tuesday, turning up the temperature on what promises to be one of the most contentious legislative debates of the year. Currently, abortion is legal in Florida up until the third trimester of pregnancy.
The bill does not include exceptions for abortions after 15 weeks in cases of rape or incest. When asked why not, Stargel said 15 weeks was plenty of time to obtain an abortion in those instances.
Stargel said the national discussion over abortion makes this a good year to push through her bill in Florida.
“I think we took a very measured approach to make sure that women who want to make that choice, they can do that. They just have to do it very early in their pregnancy,” Stargel said.
Stargel said she based the 15-week limit on a law in Mississippi, the fate of which rests with the Supreme Court. A decision on that case, which could come any day, has the possibility of overturning the precedent set by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.
With a conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court, and a Florida Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees, anti-abortion activists see a unique opportunity to pass abortion restrictions this session.
John Stemberger, president of the socially conservative Florida Family Policy Council, applauded the Florida bills Tuesday.
“If passed, it will be the most protective statute Florida has ever had protecting unborn children,” Stemberger said.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said HB 5 would build on Florida’s record of protecting mothers and their babies. In an emailed release, his office compared the abortion measure to his push last legislative session to extend the period new mothers are eligible for Medicaid.
Gov. Ron DeSantis supports abortion restrictions. He signaled his support for the bills during a news conference Tuesday, although he said he had not seen the specifics of Stargel’s and Grall’s proposals.
“There’s a lot of pro-life legislation. We’re going to be welcoming it. I haven’t looked at every single bill,” DeSantis said. “When you start talking about 15 weeks where you have really serious pain and heartbeats and all this stuff, having protections I think is something that makes a lot of sense.”
Before Tuesday, Republicans had filed other abortion measures, but these bills were the first to be backed by top leaders.
Democrats, meanwhile, expressed outrage at the proposals.
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Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the party’s lone statewide official, criticized DeSantis for pushing abortion restrictions in an ostensibly pro-freedom state.
“You want to talk about freedom? My freedom to choose what is best for my body and my family is so sacred. The fact that they are trying to take that away? Shame on them,” Fried said at a news conference Tuesday. Fried is running for governor.
Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, a staunch defender of abortion rights who used to work as a senior director at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, put out a call to her fellow progressives in a Tuesday morning tweet.
“Be ready to fight,” Eskamani wrote.
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