A bill that would ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy cleared the Florida Senate’s Fiscal Policy committee, largely along party lines.
That was the measure’s final committee of reference, positioning it for a fast track to the Senate floor. It could be on Thursday’s Special Order calendar and may get a vote the same day.
SB 300, filed by Fort Pierce Republican Sen. Erin Grall, would ban doctors from knowingly performing or inducing a termination of pregnancy after the sixth week of gestation. This would represent a change from the current 15-week threshold, which legislators hailed as a reasonable compromise when they passed it last year.
2022’s HB 5 made no exception for cases of rape and incest, a controversy at the time. However, the current bill would allow abortion up to the 15th week of pregnancy if the woman was impregnated by rape or incest or a combination thereof. Grall clarified in committee that a statutory rape would count as rape because minors cannot consent to sex legally.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity as lawmakers to protect innocent life,” said Grall in introducing the measure, saying the bill would make Florida a “beacon of hope for those who understand that life must be protected.”
Other exceptions would apply. If the pregnant woman is judged by two doctors to be in danger of dying or suffering “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition,” she could have an abortion. If only one doctor were available, that sole physician’s recommendation would suffice.
Likewise, if the fetus had a “fatal abnormality,” abortion would be permitted during the first two trimesters.
As in the previous committee, Democrats floated amendments. One suggested revision would have allowed an abortion in the case of “substantial and irreversible physical or mental impairment of a major bodily or psychological function of the pregnant woman.” Another tweak tried to strike the 24-hour waiting period. Both suggested changes failed.
Democrats, though outnumbered in the committee, challenged the GOP priority bill in questions and debate.
Sen. Lori Berman probed the sponsor for details on the “rape and incest exception,” which Grall said required “documentation” in the form of a court order, a police report, or medical corroboration in written form.
“It could be any type of medical documentation,” Grall said, ranging from “urgent care” to a mental health evaluation.
Sen. Geraldine Thompson asked what the “compelling state interest” was in this bill. The sponsor said it was “life” itself.
“There is no justification in my opinion for this ban,” said Sen. Linda Stewart. “This bill as we’ve heard is a near total abortion ban.”
“Abortion is health care, and I think we can all agree on that,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, before noting the last decade had been a “rollback” of abortion rights toward a “total ban.”
“Whatever we do here today,” Jones added, “abortions will still happen.”
Republican Sen. Alexis Catalayud joined Democrats in opposition to the bill, saying she promised voters she would “support Florida’s current 15-week law” and that she would hold to the commitment, even though she was heartened by rape and incest exceptions in the current bill.
In close, Grall noted she heard “choice and choice and choice over and over again.” She said she presented this bill because there “is this culture of death that we have normalized for 50 years, we have sterilized what abortion is.”
“Does Florida want to promote a culture of life,” asked Grall rhetorically, “where all life is important?”
The bill may have a major supporter in the executive branch. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was “willing to sign” such legislation last year, and he said the same thing Tuesday to reporters in Tallahassee.
“Exceptions are sensible. And like I said, we welcome pro-life legislation,” DeSantis said.
Other supporters in the Senate committee discussion included Susan B. Anthony Pro Life America and the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Opponents included Equality Florida, ACLU of Florida, Planned Parenthood, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, and Florida NOW.
The companion bill is moving in the House as well. Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka’s measure (HB 7) has cleared one committee already, and has one stop ahead. The bills are not identical, so if the Senate passes this version, the House may amend it before passing it on their side.
In a last-ditch attempt to stop the bill, Progress Florida, Florida NOW (National Organization for Women), the League of Women Voters of Florida, and the National Council of Jewish Women plan a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol. A couple of the principals offered preview quotes.
“Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has expressed her opposition to these extreme bans,” said Debbie Deland, President of Florida NOW. “As a woman leading the Florida Senate, she must step up to ensure Floridians have access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care and of course that includes abortion.”
“Florida legislators are seeking to control our very bodies, lives, and futures. We stand with the majority of Floridians who oppose politicians interfering in the most private and personal medical decisions best left between a woman in consultation with her family, and her faith,” said Amy Weintraub, Progress Florida’s Reproductive Freedom Program Director.
Many of these arguments were heard in comments from the public, so it’s unclear if they will move the Senate before a seemingly inevitable affirmative vote on the legislation.