The committee-level fights over a bill that would prohibit abortion in Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy are finished.
The House Health and Human Services Committee sealed the deal Thursday, advancing the bill (HB 5) despite ongoing efforts by Democratic lawmakers and activists to derail it. The Republican-sponsored bill — which accepted no amendments — now awaits the House’s full consideration.
The proposal is among the most divisive of the 2022 Legislative Session. It tests the limits of Roe v. Wade — a fact trumpeted by bill sponsors, Republican Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and Jenna Persons-Mulicka of Fort Myers, and other proponents.
“There is no right to abortion in the federal Constitution or the state constitution,” Grall said. “There is a right to life.”
Florida law currently prohibits third-trimester abortions — which the law says begins at the 24th week of gestation — with certain medical exceptions.
The proposal, however, would ban abortions after 15 weeks and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. The procedure, though, would remain legal if the life of the mother is at risk.
The bill is similar in nature to a controversial Mississippi law under the review of the U.S. Supreme Court. A judgment is expected in June, per media reports.
“I want to see Florida join Mississippi,” said Republican Rep. Will Robinson of Bradenton.
The bill would loop pregnant women into a tobacco education program. It also creates an infant mortality review process, bolsters infant mortality-reduction initiatives and enhances Florida’s abortion reporting requirements to include instances of human trafficking.
Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg filed an amendment that would’ve stripped the bill of abortion language, but left its other provisions untouched.
Democratic lawmakers urged the Republican majority to accept the amendment. The amendment, like all others, failed along party lines.
“This bill is unconstitutional,” Rayner lamented. “We will be passing unconstitutional legislation that will cost Floridians more money and more time.”
More than 100 people attended the meeting, mostly critics, with some traveling from as far as Miami.
Chairwoman Colleen Burton, a Republican, moved to limit public testimony to 30 seconds. She also prohibited those wishing to speak from doing so on someone else’s behalf, angering many attendees.
Democratic Ranking Member Tracie Davis objected. She and rank-and-file Democrats waived their time on questions and debate to provide more time to the public.
“Throughout this process, public voices have somewhat been stifled,” Davis said.
According to a staff analysis, state officials recorded 209,645 live births in 2020 and 72,073 abortions — most of which were elective.
If the measure is passed, North Carolina would be the nearest state to allow abortions after 15 weeks.
“Abortion is health care, and we have to get away from making it this political football,” said Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore of Boca Raton.
The fight against abortion rights is ramping up nationwide. In October, Texas enacted one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Known as the Heartbeat Bill, it outlaws abortions after six weeks. West Virginia, meanwhile, has introduced legislation to impose a 15-week abortion ban.
Republican lawmakers in Florida enjoy the blessing of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who described the bill in January as “very reasonable.” Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls — both Republicans — also are on board.
Critics of the bill note it is largely supported by male Republican lawmakers, who, they say, have no right to legislate a women’s body. The gender issue became apparent during a voice vote, when the votes of Democratic women drowned in a sea of Republican male voices.
“The majority of the co-sponsors are men,” Rayner said. “And so once again, you have men who are telling people who are able to give birth, what they can and cannot do with their bodies.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1. Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel is the companion bill sponsor (SB 146). Stargel’s measure awaits review by the Senate Appropriations Committee.