The Florida House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday that would ban most abortions after six weeks when many people are unaware they are pregnant.
The bill passed by a vote of 70 to 40, largely along party lines. The measure now goes to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.
Just last month, he reiterated his support for tougher abortion restrictions, saying, “We welcome the pro-life legislation.”
The bill would only go into effect if the state’s existing 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing litigation in the state Supreme Court. The Republican governor signed this ban last February, which includes no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.
The new legislation would make performing an abortion after the six-week period a third-degree crime, punishable by up to five years in prison.
However, there are exceptions in the case of rape and incest up to the 15th week of pregnancy after medical determination. In these cases, a pregnant person would have to provide documents such as a medical record, a restraining order, or a police report to prove they are a victim.
DeSantis called those and rape and incest provisions “reasonable” last month.
The bill also allows abortions in serious medical emergencies. However, only on the condition that two doctors certify in writing that an abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant person or to avoid a serious risk of significant and “irreversible physical impairment” of a bodily function. A single doctor can make this call when a second one is unavailable for the consultation.
Abortion is also allowed up to the third trimester if a fetus has a fatal abnormality, but two doctors must confirm this in writing.
A six-week limit would align the state more closely with the abortion restrictions of other GOP-controlled states. It would effectively end Florida’s reputation as a safe haven for people from other Southern states seeking abortions.
The move could also give DeSantis a potential political boost among Republican voters ahead of a potential presidential nomination in 2024.
Before the vote, Republican lawmakers reiterated longstanding conservative views on abortion.
Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka said the bill would save lives, noting the more than 82,000 abortions recorded in Florida last year.
“Today we stand for life, we stand for mothers and we stand for families in Florida,” Persons-Mulicka said. “We can transform the culture of abortion into a culture of life.”
State Democrats have criticized the bill since it was introduced early last month. The Florida Senate’s vote to pass the law last week sparked demonstrations outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee that led to the arrests of two of the state’s Democratic lawmakers.
Other Democratic officials slammed the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives before voting.
“Abortion is health care,” Rep. Kelly Skidmore said three times in a row. “This law denies it to millions of Florida residents. This is a dangerous law. We will never agree on that.”
“What you’re doing is telling every Floridian that they need to live how you want them to live, not how they want to live,” she continued. “Stay out of my business.”
Rep. Robin Bartleman similarly said, “The right to bodily autonomy is an innate right.”
“My body is mine. We don’t want unclear laws and muddy waters,” Bartleman said.
A recent poll suggests that the six-week abortion ban is not popular with Florida residents. About 75% of more than 1,400 people opposed the ban, according to a University of North Florida poll released in March.
The bill comes as a chaotic legal battle over the abortion pill mifepristone heats up. The US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overnight froze part of a Texas judge’s order that would have suspended the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of mifepristone.
The Biden administration will ask the Supreme Court to intervene, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday.
The Florida action also marks a broader shift in abortion litigation in the United States after the Supreme Court ruled in June’s 50-year-old Roe v. Wade had picked up. After this decision, the right to abortion was largely left to individual states.
Some states have rushed to ban the procedure outright, while others have gradually introduced new restrictions. Most abortions are now banned in more than a dozen states, including Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Oklahoma.