Politico

Florida Republicans craft restrictive abortion law Democrats have little power to stop


TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers in Florida are planning to pass legislation this year that would drastically limit how and when people can access abortions, a move sure to inflame growing tensions nationally over conservative efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Republicans who control the Florida Legislature have spent months crafting the proposal after Texas lawmakers in May banned all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and opened up abortion providers to lawsuits from private individuals. They settled on a less extreme but still restrictive measure that will anger Democrats and abortion rights advocates across the country: A ban on abortion after 15 weeks except if two doctors agree a fetus is suffering from a fatal abnormality. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Existing Florida law restricts abortions after 24 weeks.

The state House and Senate on Tuesday rolled out identical legislation spelling out the policy, which is similar to one approved by lawmakers in Mississippi in 2018. Details of the new proposal were first reported Tuesday morning by POLITICO.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is up for reelection this fall, broadly suggested support for any measure that limits access to abortion.

“I think there’s a lot of pro-life legislation, and we will be welcoming it,” DeSantis said during a press conference at the state Capitol, where the 2022 legislative session was just beginning on Tuesday. “Having protections make a lot of sense.”

DeSantis joined five other governors in signing a July amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe by supporting the Mississippi law.

Democrats, who have little power in the Florida Legislature, have been publicly condemning restrictive abortion measures ahead of the session. But with no actual bill to rail against until now, they have been largely confined to highlighting the impact of the Mississippi and Texas laws.


State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a progressive Democrat from Orlando, suggested the debate over abortion would become one of the biggest policy fights in Florida this year — potentially shaping midterm elections across the battleground state and driving conversations in Washington.

“I really do stress it to folks to remember, we’re talking about people in your districts who find themselves in these delicate situations and deserve and have a constitutional right to options and deciding what to do,” Eskamani said.

Florida Democrats have filed proactive legislation that would preserve abortion access, including a measure by state Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) that would contradict the type of legislation announced on Tuesday. But with little say over what happens in the Legislature, Democrats have no chance of seeing this bill succeed.

“I think part of our efforts collectively is to not allow the Republican Party to set the goal posts for us,” Eskamani said.

Florida’s legislative battle over abortion access mirrors the ongoing nationwide debate over reproductive rights after passage of the Texas and Mississippi laws, both of which remain in legal limbo. A pending Supreme Court ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week ban could upend the high court’s 1973 Roe decision by allowing other states to more aggressively restrict abortion access and narrow the medical exceptions.

While Florida lawmakers routinely consider — and shoot down — strict abortion bans during each legislative session, this year seems different. GOP lawmakers appear far more receptive to restricting abortion even if they do not plan to pursue a Texas-style law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers. The 6-week ban in the Texas law was part of early talks among Florida Republicans who wrote the new abortion bill, but lawmakers settled on the 15-week ban as the safest route to get around Roe and the state privacy clause.

The Senate version of the bill, FL SB146 (22R), was filed Tuesday by state Senate Appropriations Chair Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), who has filed several other abortion-related bills during her time in the chamber. This year’s proposal is the most restrictive one legislative leaders have considered.

“Having once been a scared teenage mother myself, I understand the turmoil of a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy,” Stargel said in a statement. “Women and children deserve better than abortion.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson has said he does not support the civil enforcement provision of the Texas law, but he has not yet commented publicly on the new proposal House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Tuesday said the bill introduced Tuesday “significantly narrows the available window for elective abortions while providing new resources and programs to reduce infant mortality in Florida.”

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples), who is in line to succeed Simpson as Senate president next year, opposes the civil-lawsuit bounty approach to enforcing the Texas law. Passidomo in October expressed interest in restricting abortion beyond the state’s current 24-week limits.

The House version, FL HB5 (22R), will be sponsored by House Judiciary Chair Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach).

“I am proud to support this legislation as a capstone to my fight for life in the Florida House,” Grall said.

Democrats see hope at the local level. Eskamani pointed to at least 14 municipalities and counties with recently approved measures that aim to protect abortion access.

St. Petersburg Council Member Darden Rice, whom Eskamani heralded as one of the first elected officials to push for a protective measure, said the Republican legislative push showed why the local laws are still important.

“Now is the time to acknowledge these anti-abortion threats and to highlight how local officials like right here in St. Petersburg are stepping up to recognize our communities to push back against these state attacks,” Rice said.

Efforts to ban abortions there have not been as successful. The Manatee County Commission discussed plans to adopt a status of “Safe Haven” for unborn children. Republican state Attorney General Ashley Moody, however, rejected that plan in December. In doing so, she pointed to a previous attorney general’s decision to block an identical plan in another community in 1985. In a letter this month, Moody’s attorney wrote that local law cannot obstruct the intent of a state law. The letter also indicates pending legislation.

One of the forces behind the scuttled Manatee County plans was Mark Lee Dickson, the architect of the Texas abortion law who also serves as the director of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative and head of the Right to Life of East Texas. Dickson wrote in an email that localities across Florida that already have no abortion facilities should ignore Moody’s opinion and still pass local bans.

“Counties and cities in Florida, which do not have an abortion facility, should not use the opinion of the Florida AG’s Office as an excuse to abandon their consideration of outlawing abortion at the local level,” Dickson wrote. “There is a way for cities and counties to outlaw abortion in Florida that is consistent with the laws of their state.”

Dickson said his efforts helped spur bans in 22 Texas cities before the Heartbeat Act was approved in September.

“It is what is in the best interest of the health and safety of all of their residents,” Dickson wrote.

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