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Florida’s 15-week abortion ban heads to DeSantis’ desk

The Senate voted to pass the measure Thursday. If signed into law, it will likely be challenged in the courts.
Anti-abortion protesters pray in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Dec. 1, 2021, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Anti-abortion protesters pray in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Dec. 1, 2021, as the court hears arguments in a case from Mississippi, where a 2018 law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) [ ANDREW HARNIK | AP ]
Published Mar. 4|Updated Mar. 4

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate voted Thursday to pass a historic and controversial measure banning most abortions after 15 weeks.

The bill’s path through the Florida Legislature was one of the most turbulent in recent memory. Lawmakers gave tearful speeches while debating it. Protesters disrupted multiple hearings. And the legal future of the proposal remains uncertain.

Related: Biden says he won’t stand for Florida’s ‘dangerous’ 15-week abortion ban

But on Thursday, after the debate over life and liberty and privacy ended, the Senate voted 23 to 15 along party lines to pass House Bill 5. They didn’t change a single word of the measure that passed the House last month.

It now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is all but certain to sign it into law. It would take effect July 1.

“These are children,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. “If we’re not going to protect them, who will? And if not our laws, then what?”

The measure is unlikely to affect the vast majority of abortions in Florida. In 2021, the state recorded about 80,000 abortions. About 4,800 of those — roughly six percent — came after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

But the measure still strikes a blow to abortion rights in Florida that’s unprecedented in the era of Roe v. Wade. That 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case held that states could not ban abortion before the third trimester. For decades, abortion has been legal in Florida until that point — about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The precedent established by Roe v. Wade essentially remains the law of the land in the U.S. But conservatives, including Florida’s leaders, hope that will soon change. The Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of a 2018 Mississippi law after which Florida’s 15-week ban was modeled.

Republicans in Arizona and West Virginia are also taking up 15-week bills. Lawmakers in Idaho and Texas have either passed or are pursuing bills banning most abortions after six weeks. Abortion rights activists worried the procedure could soon become all but outlawed in some states.

Related: Abortion rights at stake in historic Supreme Court arguments

“Our big fear ... is that we’ll be back next year,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton. “Fourteen weeks, 13 weeks, 10 weeks, until eventually we get to six. And eventually, you can’t get an abortion.”

As the measure made its way through the Legislature, Republican lawmakers voted at least five times against allowing abortions after 15 weeks in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking. (In 2021, the state reported 17 second-trimester abortions in cases of rape or incest.)

The Democrat-led attempt to add a rape, incest and human trafficking exception to the bill offered the most emotional moment of the Senate debate.

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Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, while attempting to make a case for the proposal, testified about sexual abuse she experienced as a child.

Saying she had never spoken publicly about her ordeal in such great detail, Book described how she struggled with anorexia and agoraphobia in the wake of the abuse. She said had she been in a situation that could have resulted in pregnancy, it would have taken her weeks to decide what to do.

“If, heaven forbid, I did find myself in a situation where I had to make that kind of decision ... my family and I would have needed more time,” Book said.

Stargel argued the exception was unnecessary because 15 weeks is enough time to decide whether an abortion is necessary in those circumstances. Stargel said the exception would lead to more babies dying at the hands of abortion providers.

And she said although most women would be honest about their experiences with sexual abuse, some might falsely accuse men in order to obtain an abortion.

“If one of the only opportunities to have an abortion is if the woman was raped, I fear for the men who are going to be accused of a rape so that the woman can have an abortion,” Stargel said.

In the end, the proposed exceptions were voted down by a voice vote.

In addition to the 15-week ban, the bill also directs abortion providers to report medication abortions to the state. Pregnancies ended by victims of human trafficking also must be documented by providers.

The state would also enact a number of measures aimed at curbing maternal and fetal mortality under the bill. For example, the bill directs the state to spend $1.6 million per year so the Department of Health can set up and manage regional fetal and infant mortality review committees.

Advocates tried throughout the process to slow, tweak, or kill the abortion bill. On Wednesday, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, staged what appeared to be an impromptu delay tactic, giving lengthy speeches on two Democrat-sponsored amendments. Other Democrats did not appear to participate in the mini-filibuster.

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates hosted numerous events and news conferences, including one Wednesday in which advocates spoke about their experiences with abortion.

One of the speakers was Danielle Tallafuss, who in 2020 chose to obtain an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy. She did so because her child, whom she had named Nathaniel, was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She feared carrying her son to term would mean exposing him to invasive and potentially painful pediatric heart surgeries.

Related: These Florida parents chose abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Here's why.

“Had I needed an abortion after this bill was passed, I would have had to travel outside of my home state,” Tallafuss said. “Our family needed this procedure. We needed this for the health and safety of our family.”

And on Thursday, White House officials held a virtual discussion with Florida lawmakers who support abortion rights, including Farmer and Book.

Once DeSantis signs the bill, which he has called “reasonable,” the battle against it will head to state and federal courts. It’s unclear whether the measure will stand.

But top Republican officials are optimistic.

“For the first time in many years, you’re going to have a bill that I believe will be tolerated under the U.S. Supreme Court,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, told reporters Thursday before the vote. “I think it’s a great day for families.”

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