The Florida Senate April 3 approved a bill to ban abortions after six weeks, a proposal supported by the state's Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to launch his bid for the Republican presidential nomination soon.
Senate Bill 300, the Heartbeat Protection Act, would prohibit most abortions in the state, with exceptions for women who are victims of rape or who face a mortality risk associated with the pregnancy. The bill also would make exceptions for cases of a diagnosis of a fatal fetal anomaly until the third trimester.
If signed into law, the new bill would only go into effect if the state's current 15-week ban is upheld amid an ongoing legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. A concurrent bill to SB 300 has been introduced in the state's House, where it has advanced out of committee. That bill or the Senate's version could be approved by the House in the coming days.
DeSantis, who is Catholic, indicated in March he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk. The governor has not yet formally announced his plans for the 2024 election cycle, but is widely seen as a prospective GOP presidential candidate. DeSantis has made recent visits to early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
SB 300 also allocates some funds to crisis pregnancy centers, and restricts the use of abortion drugs via telemedicine, requiring in-person visits rather than the distribution of those drugs by mail.
In an April 3 post on their website noting the bill's Senate passage, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that while the bill is "imperfect," the conference "strongly supported" the legislation calling it a "tremendous improvement over current law."
State Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said in an April 3 statement that Florida "has been a nationwide leader in defending the rights of the unborn."
"The Heartbeat Protection Act will make Florida a beacon of hope for those who understand that life is sacred and must be protected," Grall said. "This bill represents an unprecedented opportunity to protect innocent life, and to stand with the brave moms who choose life for their babies. For 50 years, it was legal in this country to kill unborn children, and during that time, abortion has touched every single one of us. We have to grieve for what we have done as a country. This bill makes certain our laws reflect the strongest protections for innocent life."
Opponents argued the bill further restricts abortion after the state approved a new 15-week limit.
State Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orange County, said in an April 3 statement SB 300 is "an insult to women and a direct attack on our fundamental and reproductive healthcare rights." She pointed out that the Legislature is now passing a six-week ban just a year after passing a 15-week ban. Stewart argued that women seeking abortions in Florida will still be required to wait 24 hours between two separate appointments before undergoing the procedure.
"Many women may not be able to confirm their pregnancy until week four, and now the state of Florida expects them to get appointments with two doctors and make this kind of a major decision in just a couple of weeks?" Stewart said. "Many people may have irregular menstrual cycles and might not be aware they have missed a period."
"This entire piece of legislation is ludicrous, unrealistic and a major overreach by Florida's government into our everyday lives, and in essence this bill is a complete ban on abortion," she said. "A majority of Floridians support access to pregnancy terminating care, and this bill is a direct assault on the lives and freedoms of Floridians."
Katie Daniel, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America's state policy director, praised the bill's state Senate passage in a statement, arguing it has support in the state.
"Sixty-two percent of Floridians support protecting unborn children from abortion when their heartbeat can be detected, including 61% of Independents and 58% of women," Daniel said. "Florida's life-saving heartbeat protection legislation not only represents the will of people by bringing the Sunshine State into line with 19 other states that protect babies with beating hearts, but also by funding vital services for women and families."
Daniel pointed out, "Nearly one quarter of Florida's abortions were sought for 'social or economic reasons' last year."
"Research also shows over 60% of women who have abortions report pressure, whether because of finances, a male partner, or other source -- surely we can all agree that is not what free 'choice' looks like," she said. "With $25 million in funding for life-affirming nonprofits, more moms will receive the support they need to thrive during pregnancy and beyond."