The right to an abortion is under threat, and Republicans in the Florida Legislature are riding that momentum right through long-established law. Newly proposed legislation would ban nearly all abortions in Florida after 15 weeks, a direct assault on the right to privacy established in Roe v. Wade. A 15-week abortion ban ignores the realities of many women facing this choice and reeks of hypocrisy from the party that claims to revere the rule of law.
The bills under consideration in the current legislative session, Senate Bill 146 and House Bill 5, would ban doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks unless the health of the mother is at risk or if there is a “fatal fetal abnormality.” Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, established the right to an abortion up until the point of fetal viability, which occurs around 24 weeks. After that, the court held, states could regulate abortions.
Florida’s proposed 15-week ban makes no pretense about violating the precedent established in Roe. In fact, it’s a political gamble, banking that the new conservative supermajority on the nation’s high court will soon strike down Roe v. Wade and allow such bans to stand. While that might be a prudent bet, it’s a slap in the face to the rule of law.
What’s more, the proposed bills make no exceptions for cases of rape or incest because, as Senate bill sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, claimed, 15 weeks is plenty of time to obtain an abortion under those circumstances. Plenty of time to escape the traumatic situation that led to a forced pregnancy. Plenty of time to come up with money for the procedure. Plenty of time to arrange transportation, time off work and, in many women’s situations, care for their other children. And don’t forget: Minor girls are victims of rape and incest too. Stargel’s callous, ill-informed stance is indefensible.
Yet Stargel calls the approach “measured,” which has a ring of truth considering the lengths to which some states have gone to obstruct abortion access. Last year, lawmakers in Texas passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country, prohibiting the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally around six weeks. That’s often before many women even know they’re pregnant and hence before most abortions are performed in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect, a clear and chilling sign that reproductive rights are in deep peril in this country.
The two bills in Florida are modeled after Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which the high court is set to rule on soon. A decision in that case could well undo the protections established in Roe v. Wade, setting back decades of progress that have made abortion a safe procedure, reduced the stigma around the need for it and given women alone the right to decide what happens to their bodies. Florida’s Republican legislators have seized this uncertain moment to put women on notice that their rights are in the crosshairs.
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