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Bill banning abortion after 6 weeks filed in Florida Legislature

The legislation allows exceptions for rape or incest, but only up to 15 weeks and with “evidence,” like a police report or other record.
 
People attend an abortion rights rally organized by Florida Rep. Michele Rayner and the Pinellas Democratic Progressive Caucus on the steps of the county courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg on May 3, 2022.
People attend an abortion rights rally organized by Florida Rep. Michele Rayner and the Pinellas Democratic Progressive Caucus on the steps of the county courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg on May 3, 2022. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published March 7, 2023|Updated March 7, 2023

Proposed legislation filed Tuesday would restrict abortion in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they are pregnant.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Erin Grall, R-Lake Placid, comes despite an ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, passed last year. Grall also sponsored that 15-week legislation.

Unlike the 15-week ban, the proposal to limit abortions after six weeks does have exceptions for victims of rape or incest — but only up until 15 weeks of pregnancy, and only with documentation of the rape. The proposed six-week ban also includes exceptions for instances where an abortion is necessary to save a woman’s life or avert serious physical damage.

To access an abortion after six weeks in a case of rape or incest, patients must “provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation providing evidence that she is obtaining the termination of pregnancy because she is a victim of rape or incest,” according to the legislation.

Grall’s bill was filed on the opening day of Florida’s legislative session, shortly before Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed lawmakers. A companion House bill was also filed Tuesday, sponsored by Reps. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, and Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers.

At a news conference after his speech, DeSantis said he supports further restrictions on abortion. But he pointed to the legal challenge against Florida’s 15-week abortion limitations and said that any further abortion restrictions would be in legal limbo.

That lawsuit challenges Florida’s law on the grounds that it goes against state Supreme Court precedent that has interpreted the state Constitution’s privacy clause as protecting the right to an abortion. DeSantis’ administration has said that provision should be reversed.

When asked specifically about the six-week ban, and whether there’s a concern that it could restrict abortions before a woman may know she’s pregnant, DeSantis said he thinks “the issue is less (about the) week than the fact that there’s a detectable heartbeat.”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, previously worked for Planned Parenthood and quickly denounced the legislation.

“Florida Republicans have once again demonstrated a complete disregard for the women of our state and for our collective freedoms,” Eskamani said in a statement. “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.”

Eskamani acknowledged the uphill fight for Florida Democrats, facing a supermajority of Republicans in the Legislature, but said that, regardless of political affiliation, Floridians have supported the right to privacy and opposed harsh abortion bans.

Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement that the effect of the bill would fall disproportionately on Black and Latino communities who struggle to access health care because of systemic inequities.

“This near total abortion ban has nothing to do with what is best for Floridians and everything to do with Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be president and what he thinks Republican primary voters want,” Goodhue said.

John Stemberger, the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, said, “It’s a great day for those of us that are trying to protect life.” He said it was “unfortunate” that the rape and incest exceptions were in the bill, but said politics requires pragmatism.

The legislation filed Tuesday also prohibits state funds from being used for a person to travel to another state to access an abortion, unless they are required by federal law or unless there is a medical necessity.

It’s unclear if that provision could impact a proposal from the St. Petersburg City Council to spend $50,000 in support of the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund to pay for travel expenses for pregnant city residents seeking abortions.

McKenna Kelley, a spokesperson for the fund, said “coincidental or not, it did seem like it was directly targeting,” the city’s move.

St. Petersburg City Council member Richie Floyd, who is sponsoring the proposal, said he hasn’t seen the proposed legislation, but he “knew stuff like that was coming.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the bill limiting abortions after six weeks would not only affect Floridian women but would also “impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in states across the South with abortion bans and would no longer be able to rely on Florida as an option to access care.”

In 2021, out-of-state residents accessing abortion in Florida made up about 6% of all procedures. In 2022, that went up to 8%, according to data from the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The legislation filed Tuesday also expands state-run pregnancy support services to include parenting classes and assistance with things like diapers and formula.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Colleen Wright and Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.

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