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Florida legislature passes ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida legislature passed a Republican bill Thursday that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, cutting off what has become a critical access point for abortion care in the South since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has signaled he will sign it. It passed 70-40 in the House and was approved in the state Senate earlier this month.

Florida’s current law allows abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, a time period in which the vast majority of abortions take place. The six-week ban — which includes exceptions for rape, incest, medical emergencies and “fatal fetal abnormalities” — would outlaw the procedure before many people know they’re pregnant.

Patients from across the South have been traveling to Florida for abortions since the Supreme Court decision in June, which triggered abortion bans across the region. Over 82,000 people got abortions in Florida in 2022, more than almost any other state. Nearly 7,000 of those traveled to Florida from other states, a 38 percent increase from the year before.

Those numbers have been an impetus for stricter restrictions, Florida Republicans say.

“I’m going to fight,” state Rep. David Borrero (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, said on the House floor Thursday afternoon. “As many sessions as it takes, as many votes as it takes … until every single person from the moment of conception to the casket has constitutional rights.”

Because so many people live in Florida, a six-week ban there could put intense strain on clinics in states where abortion is still legal.

“If people from Florida are now going to be flooding into the Carolinas and Illinois … that is taking spots that Alabamians and Mississippians need right now,” said Robin Marty, director of operations at West Alabama Women’s Center, a clinic that provided abortions before Roe was overturned. “That’s a crisis that’s going to ripple all across the entire country.”

The bill will take effect 30 days after one of a few scenarios occurs — most likely, 30 days after the state Supreme Court issues a decision on the constitutionality of the 15-week ban that is already in effect. That decision is expected within the coming months.

Abortion rights advocates described the ban as a political maneuver by DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president and will need to win over the Republican base in a primary.

“These political moves have devastating consequences,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “Gov. DeSantis’s audition for the presidency doesn’t define us as Floridians.”

In a statement issued soon after the Florida ban passed, the White House emphasized that voters have come out again and again to support abortion rights since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“Despite this, Republican elected officials continue their work to dismantle our fundamental freedoms, including through attempts to ban abortion nationwide,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, adding that the ban “flies in the face of fundamental freedoms.”

Meanwhile, antiabortion groups celebrated the legislation as a major victory. The Florida ban passed less than 24 hours after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled to uphold strict restrictions on mifepristone, a key abortion drug.

“It’s a great day to be pro-life,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, a national antiabortion group. “Life is a winning issue.”

Florida Democrats have argued fiercely against the legislation, staging several protests in the lead-up to the bill — including one that ended in several top Democrats being arrested.

House Democrats introduced dozens of amendments during debate, including one that would have added an exception for several pregnancy complications that have been impacted by abortion bans. The amendment would have explicitly allowed doctors to induce or perform an abortion if a woman presents at a hospital with pre-viable PPROM, a life-threatening health condition that can lead to severe hemorrhage or infection.

Rep. Robin Bartleman (D), who proposed the amendment, discussed a story published in The Washington Post earlier this week about Anya Cook and Shanae-Smith Cunningham, who experienced pre-viable PPROM and were turned away from the hospital because of the state’s abortion ban.

“If you know about Anya and Shanae who live in Broward county, you know that Anya had a much wanted pregnancy,” Bartleman said. When her water broke at 15 weeks, she added, “the hospital decided to send her home and she delivered the fetus in a toilet, alone. She lost so much blood.”

Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R), who sponsored the six-week ban, said the medical exception already included in the bill covered that kind of situation.

“If anyone tells you differently, they are misinformed,” she said, before the amendment was defeated by a vote of 33-80.

The legislation also provides $25 million in annual state funding for crisis pregnancy centers, organizations that aim to dissuade people from getting abortions.

Earlier this year, Florida Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D) and other Democrats had hoped that Senate President Kathleen Passidomo — a moderate Republican lawyer from Naples — would prevent the state from moving toward a six-week ban. Passidomo has appeared hesitant to implement a strict abortion ban, initially saying Florida should not go further on abortion until its state Supreme Court issues a ruling on the 15-week ban.

But Passidomo came around to the legislation earlier this year, voicing her public support for the six-week ban soon after it was introduced in early March — a move that shocked both Republicans and Democrats in Tallahassee.

“This is what happens when you have no backbone to stand up to the scary GOP guy running for president,” Book said in an interview with The Post.

Abortion rights advocates say the Florida ban has flown largely under the radar, usurped by coverage of the abortion pill ruling issued by a Texas judge that withdrew FDA approval of mifepristone. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a temporary order late Wednesday allowing mifepristone to remain on the market, but reinstating strict restrictions on the drug.

“All the blue states and coasts have focused on, ‘Oh God, what if we lose access to mifepristone,’” said Marty, the director at the Alabama clinic. “They’ve forgotten that the last safe place in the South is about to go down.”

As the debate progressed on Thursday morning, the House temporarily called a recess when protesters tossed small round stickers down from the public gallery and then gathered outside the room yelling “Hands off our bodies!” and “Stand up, fight back!” Nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers joined the three dozen protesters in the lobby to chant and sing “Lean on Me,” a song that has become an anthem for abortion bill protesters in Florida.

The recess ended after 15 minutes. House Speaker Paul Renner said “I appreciate all the passionate debate,” but “inside the chamber, I treat it like a courtroom, and we will have decorum.”

After the vote, abortion rights activists stood across the street from the capitol. Demonstrators said the outcome of the vote was inevitable, given the GOP’s supermajority in the legislature. But they also said they feel more energized now because of all the support they’ve been getting in the nearly two weeks that they’ve been demonstrating in Tallahassee.

“We’re seeing a lot more thumbs up and support from people driving by,” said Rhea Das, a woman’s health nurse from Tallahassee. “Most Floridians, and most Americans, don’t want these kind of laws.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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