TALLAHASSEE — As Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning, the Florida House passed a historic and controversial bill banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In a nearly party-line 78 to 39 vote, lawmakers dealt a stinging blow to abortion rights in Florida, which has some of the strongest protections in the south for those seeking the procedure.
At the same time, Republicans delivered a long-sought victory for opponents of abortion.
“We have the opportunity today to pass once-in-a-lifetime legislation to save lives. To save babies,” said Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Just before the chamber voted, at least a dozen activists were ejected from the House gallery after some of them interrupted a speech by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach — the other primary bill sponsor — with chants of “My body, my choice!”
The measure, House Bill 5, is scheduled to be taken up by a Senate committee Monday. If it clears that committee, it will be up for a vote in the full Senate. If passed there, it would go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The bill does not include exceptions that would allow abortions after 15 weeks in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking. Grall argued this week that pregnant victims of those crimes would have enough time to seek an abortion under her bill if they choose.
The bill does include exceptions that would allow abortions after 15 weeks in cases where the pregnancy endangers the life or seriously threatens the physical health of the mother. Pregnancies in which two doctors detect a “fatal fetal abnormality” could also be terminated after 15 weeks under the bill.
Over the course of more than six hours of debate fraught with personal and political tension, Democrats tried to tweak and delay the measure. They argued the bill would pose a new barrier for economically disadvantaged people seeking safe abortions, and that it would take an important health care option off of the table for people who might need it. A ban on the procedure after 15 weeks would be a first step toward further eroding abortion rights, they said.
On Tuesday, Democrats filed 14 amendments onto the bill, some of them attempting to address the bill’s lack of exceptions.
For example, Rep. Marie Paule Woodson, D-Hollywood, filed an amendment that would have allowed people to seek abortions after 15 weeks if their pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
“My best friend from high school was raped. We have to have a heart in this chamber,” Woodson said in a floor speech, her voice shaking with emotion. “We need to give women a choice to make a decision when they are raped.”
The amendment failed in a party-line vote. None of the Democrats’ other amendments passed.
Republicans, meanwhile, argued the bill would save lives. They, too, furnished their debate with personal stories.
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“I’ve been a lot of the people that you’ve talked about. I’ve lived in poverty. I’ve had two children, and I’ve worked three jobs without an education. I’ve been raped, and I’ve had an abortion,” said Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce. “I was always pro-life — until I had a choice. And then I had a choice, and I selfishly made the choice to have an abortion.”
“I’m ashamed because I will never get to know the unborn child that I could have had. My children will never know their brother or sister,” Trabulsy later added.
In 2021, the state reported some 75,000 abortions, including about 4,500 performed during the second trimester — after about 12 weeks of pregnancy. Current state law allows abortions until the third trimester, which starts at around the 24th week of pregnancy.
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