TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - New legislative proposals that seek to prevent doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy were met with swift opposition Wednesday from Democrats and abortion-rights groups.
The measures (SB 146 and HB 5) closely resemble a Mississippi abortion law that is before the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments last month. With a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, abortion-rights supporters are concerned that justices will uphold the Mississippi law or strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.
A group of Democratic lawmakers and activists supporting abortion access decried the Florida legislation Wednesday during a news conference on the steps of the Old Capitol, calling the bills "oppressive" and "dangerous."
"When we look at abortion as an issue, it’s not even a culture war issue, it is health care," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. "So how dare you strip away our rights in this new piece of policy, which is a direct assault on the protection established under Roe v. Wade. And if Roe were overturned and if this bill were to become law, if you needed to access an abortion beyond 15 weeks, the closest state for you is North Carolina."
Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, criticized the measures as "trying to roll back the clock just a week and a few days before Roe v. Wade’s anniversary." Robinson also took aim at the proposals not including an exception for rape or incest.
"Imagine being a rape victim and finding out you are pregnant with the attacker’s child. You do not want to carry the pregnancy to term, but you have no option. Therefore, you are forced to have a child conceived through violence and violation," Robinson said.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and House judiciary Chairwoman Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, filed the proposals Tuesday, the first day of the 2022 legislative session. Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Stargel said the issue is "something I’ve worked on my entire career in this process."
"I feel very strongly that life begins at conception, but we’re making some combination that makes sure that women do have an option through those first 15 weeks, and then after that, the baby is important and we’re going to recognize that," she said.
Stargel said 15 weeks is around the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, and "we thought that was a good time." Stargel also said the Mississippi-style abortion restriction "could be a new standard."
Stargel said she was urged to get an abortion when she was a teen but did not have the procedure.
"Many people recommended that I have an abortion and told me that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish things and that my life was going to be destroyed," Stargel said. "I don’t fault those people, they were doing what they thought honestly was the case. But many, many women defy those odds, and many of these babies go on to do successful things."
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signaled that he would sign such a bill.
"I have not seen that particular one, but obviously I’m supportive of 15 weeks. I think that’s very reasonable, and I think that’s very consistent with being supportive of protecting life," DeSantis told reporters in Bonita Springs. "So we’ll work with them as they kind of get through that process. But I think that’ll be something that we will be able to sign, and I think a lot of people will be very happy with that."
DeSantis’ labeling the restriction as "reasonable" drew ire from Eskamani.
"I saw a headline this morning that said, Governor DeSantis supports reasonable abortion ban. Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as a reasonable abortion ban," said Eskamani, who formerly worked at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.