Florida lawmakers vote to ban most abortions after 15 weeks

Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is now headed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

State senators voted 23-15 Thursday night in favor of the measure with no exceptions for rape or incest, an issue that spurred hours of emotional debate and protests.

Senate President Wilton Simpson predicted the measure, which opponents say is aimed at severely restricting abortion rights granted under the U.S. and Florida constitutions, would survive court review.

“For the first time in many years, you are going to have a bill that I believe will be tolerated in the U.S. Supreme Court,” Simpson said.

Abortion is presently permitted up to the 24th week of pregnancy in Florida. The issue proved to be one of the most contentious of the 2022 legislative session with hours of emotional debate and protests.

The legislation, with an effective date of July 1, would allow an abortion to be performed after 15 weeks only if two doctors certify a “fatal fetal abnormality” that will “result in death upon birth or imminently thereafter.” It also includes an exception if an abortion is “necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life” or avert serious bodily injury.

Republicans rejected numerous attempts by Democrats to amend the legislation to include exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking. Democrats also tried to remove a requirement that two doctors — instead of one — approve an abortion after 15 weeks.

The debate included emotional testimony from Democratic Leader Sen. Lauren Book, who publicly disclosed for the first time she was drugged and raped by several men when she was a child. The Democrat is known as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, having previously spoken about how she had been abused by a live-in nanny.

Book pleaded with senators not to put women on the clock who had suffered serious trauma. She said she expects lawmakers will face a backlash from the public for what she later called “an all-out attack on women’s rights.”

“It is very scary to people all over the country, and people are paying attention,” Book said.

GOP state Sen. Kelli Stargel defended excluding an exception for rape and incest, saying a fetus is a child that shouldn’t be aborted because of the manner in which it was conceived.

“These are babies,” she said. “It is not a choice. It is a child. I know we’ve seen it on the posters, but it is the truth.”

Abortion “is the woman’s decision,” Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, argued. “It is not the government’s decision.”

And the male-dominated Legislature, and men in general, “will never know what it really feels like” to make that choice, he said.

DeSantis has called the 15-week ban “very reasonable” and said he thought it was something he would be able to sign.

The Florida House approved the abortion ban last month in a nearly party-line vote after vocal protesters in the gallery were removed by Capitol police.

Anti-abortion groups see 2022 as the year to act.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion, is on shaky ground because of conservatives appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump.

Florida’s Supreme Court is now solidly conservative with DeSantis appointees filling three of the seven seats during his first year in office. Previous justices have protected abortion rights using a privacy clause in the state constitution.

Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which lower courts have blocked from taking effect, served as the model for Florida’s proposal. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Mississippi’s law over the summer.

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