TALLAHASSEE — Republican lawmakers voted Thursday to advance a six-week abortion ban during its first stop in committee, despite intense opposition from dozens of speakers.
The 13-5 vote along party lines advanced House Bill 7 filed by Republican Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka of Fort Myers. It seeks to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and includes exceptions for cases in which the mother is facing severe injury or death, the fetus has a fatal abnormality, or if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Florida law currently bans the procedure after 15 weeks. Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, filed span similspanr bill in her chamber.
“This bill that I’m proposing today is the result of listening and the result of caring,” Persons-Mulicka said during the Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee meeting. “It’s a bill that recognizes the importance and value of the life of innocent unborn human beings.”
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The meeting featured more than an hour of emotional testimony, mostly from women who opposed the bill. Several noted that many people don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks of pregnancy and that Florida’s current 15-week ban is in the middle of a legal challenge.
“House Bill 7, if passed, would be devastating to my patients, to women, to families all throughout Florida,” said Dr. Alex Monaco, an obstetrician gynecologist at the University of Florida. “I think you all want to be good people, and I understand that you want to restrict abortion, but you must understand that there are nuances in pregnancy and abortion care … I beg of you on behalf of my colleagues and my patients to please oppose this bill. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”
The bill also forbids doctors from using telehealth to provide an abortion and mandates that doctors must be “physically present in the same room as the woman when the termination of pregnancy is performed or when dispensing abortion-inducing drugs.”
Along with abortion restrictions, the legislation calls to expand services provided by Florida Department of Health-contracted pregnancy support centers to give assistance for new parents such as clothing, car seats and diapers and counseling. The bill provides no funding for the expansion of services. However, the Senate version includes $25 million in recurring funding for those services and $5 million in recurring funding for family planning services such as contraception and counseling.
Should the proposal end up on his desk after the lawmaking session concludes in May, Gov. Ron DeSspanntis signaled he would support it, although he hasn’t championed the proposal with as much enthusiasm as his priority proposals such as eliminspanting diversity, equity spannd inclusion initispantives on college cspanmpuses.
“We’re for pro-life. I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign,” he sspanid during a Feb. 1 news conference in response to a question about whether he would support a six-week ban.
Democrat-proposed amendments fail
Three amendments proposed by Democratic representatives failed during Thursday’s meeting. Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani, who worked for the reproductive health care practice Planned Parenthood before she was elected, proposed striking the six-week ban portion of the bill altogether, while Reps. Allison Tant and Kelly Skidmore sought narrower changes.
Tant’s spanmendment would have eliminated a requirement that a second physician sign off on an abortion in the event that a pregnancy would cause death or serious injury to the mother. The bill does allow one physician to sign off if a second isn’t available.
Skidmore’s spanmendment was aimed at the exception for rape and incest victims. That portion of the bill requires a pregnant person to produce a “restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation providing evidence” of the crime. The amendment would have added a sworn statement to that list. Proponents note there are barriers to reporting a rape or incest to police and the legal system.
That amendment sparked emotional testimony from Taylor Aguilar, of Lakeland, who said she got pregnant after a man she was having consensual sex with removed the condom without her permission. By the time she saw a doctor, she was 10 weeks pregnant.
She didn’t report the rape to police, she said, “because she wanted to get as far away from the situation as possible.”
“I got the choice” on whether to have an abortion, Aguilar, 28, said, “because in 2015 we didn’t have these restrictions.”
As she left the committee room, she began to cry.
A handful of speakers spoke in favor of the bill, including Andrew Shirvell with the pro-life organization Florida Voice for the Unborn. Shirvell urged lawmakers to enact a more extreme version of the bill, banning the procedure from the point of conception.
“To do anything less than full protection is cowardly and unacceptable,” Shirvell said.
Polls show that Floridians generally support protecting abortion access in all or most cases. During a recent TV appearance, Sen. Rick Scott said Floridians are more in favor of moderate policies, like the 15-week ban currently in place, the reported.
“You know this bill is widely unpopular,” said Sarah Parker with Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida during the House meeting. “I never thought I would be on the side of Sen. Rick Scott, but here I am.”
15-week legal challenge before Florida Supreme Court
A challenge by Planned Parenthood organizations and other groups to Florida’s new 15-week abortion law is now before the Florida Supreme Court, which has set up a schedule for filing briefs and other matters that makes it unlikely that a ruling on that law’s constitutionality comes until well after the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in May.
Attorneys for the state are expected to ask justices to reverse decades of precedent and rule that Florida’s constitutional right to privacy does not protect abortion rights.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper, in ruling the 15-week law unconstitutional last year, relied on the state Supreme Court’s 1989 “T.W.” ruling that overturned a parental consent law for minors seeking abortion, saying it violated that privacy right.
Justices have left the 15-week standard in place while it’s being appealed.
The privacy right states that “every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion.” It was added to the state constitution by voters in 1980.
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But last fall, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office filed briefs with the Supreme Court arguing in favor of retaining the 15-week standard while it was before the court. It cited the words used in that privacy right.
“That language is naturally read to limit governmental snooping and information-gathering — but not to establish a liberty to destroy unborn (or any other) life,” it said.
During Thursday’s meeting, Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky asked Persons-Mulicka, who co-sponsored last year’s 15-week abortion ban legislation, why she was proposing a change to abortion law while the current limit is being challenged.
The change, Persons-Mulicka said, is that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, returning abortion access control back to the states.
“I look forward to watching and hearing how Florida Supreme Court rules,” she said.