TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — For a state frequently cited as an abortion sanctuary in the South, Florida is about to see tighter restrictions as the Legislature moves quickly on proposals in both the House and Senate. Abortion activists – including Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) and Florida Planned Parenthood – are sounding alarms as Southern states pass stricter laws that will make it more difficult to obtain the procedure.
DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO LIFE
“Our ability to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness began with life,” said House Speaker Paul Renner. “We must defend the right to life for thousands of boys and girls who deserve to experience life, find love, and enrich the lives of others.”
Two Pregnancy and Parenting Support bills, HB 7, filed by Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R-Fort Myers) and SB 300, filed by Senator Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), would ban abortion after six weeks with certain exemptions. The proposal also prohibits local government entities and public universities from using taxpayer dollars to pay travel expenses for women to receive out-of-state abortions.
“This bill [HB 7] is about protecting and valuing the life of all our unborn children, but it’s also about how we can best support our mothers,” Representative Persons-Mulicka tells the Florida Standard. “We’ve done great work to ensure that there’s access to quality health care for expectant mothers and for children and families in our state.”
SUPREME COURT PRECEDENT
Since the Dobbs ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court, seven Southern states have banned abortion entirely. Georgia recently passed a six-week ban. So why is Florida lagging behind when Governor Ron DeSantis said he supports tighter restrictions?
In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling similar to Roe v. Wade. The ruling stated that Article 1, Section 23 of the Constitution of Florida (“Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from government intrusion into the person’s private life”) protects a woman’s right to an abortion as a matter of state constitutional law, independent of federal law.
But many have argued the decision is unconstitutional and should be overturned, just as Roe v. Wade was overturned. According to Denise Harle, Senior Counsel and Director of Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom, a person’s “private life choices” does not give them the right to end the life of a separate living person.
Florida has always protected life in the womb and banned abortion until the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. Harle told The Florida Standard that nothing in Florida’s constitution, the history of Florida law, or legal traditions support a right to abortion.
Florida’s Supreme Court is currently deliberating on a pending lawsuit regarding the state’s existing 15-week abortion ban. Harle says it's an opportunity for the court – with 4 justices nominated by Governor DeSantis – to revisit that decision and overturn the previous ruling.
Other state supreme courts, such as Iowa, have corrected similar rulings paving the way for tighter restrictions on the procedure.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR FLORIDA?
The Senate is holding final committee hearings on the six-week ban (SB 300) today and the bill is expected to be read on the Senate floor as early as Thursday. The House is now reviewing its version of the bill (HB 7) in the Health & Human Services Committee.
Governor DeSantis has given his full support to the measures and is expected to sign the bills upon passing. But the six-week ban will not take effect until the Supreme Court sides with Florida on the pending case brought against the current 15-week ban.
Other portions of the bill, such as expanded pregnancy and parenting support services, counseling, training and mentoring, will be available immediately.