15-week abortion ban advances in Florida House despite fervent opposition


As a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban awaits its fate in the U.S. Supreme Court, a similar proposal is progressing through the Florida House.

The Florida bill (HB 5) would prohibit clinics from offering abortion procedures after 15 weeks of a pregnancy, instead of up to 24 weeks as allowed by the landmark cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), said at a House professions and public health subcommittee hearing recently that she intentionally mirrored Mississippi’s, hoping the Supreme Court would uphold that one.

“I think the court has gotten it wrong when it comes to the viability standard,” Grall said, “and we anticipate that being overturned at the federal level.”

Grall said at a health care appropriations subcommittee meeting, however: “Should it not be upheld at the Supreme Court, it is likely that our bill would be struck down at that time. But if it is upheld, it gives us the biggest opportunity to save unborn children after 15 weeks.”

Voting along party lines, that subcommittee cleared the bill with a 10-5 split and will soon go to the House health and human services committee for a hearing.

Dissenters worry about making it harder for people of color to access abortions.

Guerdy Remy, 51, of Altamonte Springs, Seminole County, said she had an abortion when she was 17 and 20 weeks pregnant. Newly graduated from high school, she didn’t have anyone to approach in her Haitian Catholic family. She didn’t have money. So she gulped tea, mineral oils, anything she could, hoping to end the pregnancy.

Once her aunt discovered it, thanks to a too-tight bridesmaid dress, she helped Remy to a hospital. There, Remy lay medicated in a bed beside a woman preparing to give birth. Alone.

With the parental consent laws in Florida, Remy couldn’t have had an abortion under the proposed 15-week window. And as a young Black woman of low income, she wouldn’t have been able to drive to North Carolina, the closest state without an abortion ban.

“There’s no way that I would have kept that pregnancy, I don't care what would have happened,” she said. “That’s where I was mentally, and a lot of people will be in that same situation. It was a good thing I was in a state or at a time where I was able to have a safe abortion in a hospital. When the access is no longer available, they will turn to alternative means. The alternative means will be detrimental, be dangerous – it can be deadly.”

Remy volunteers with Planned Parenthood, she says, to ensure other women’s voices are heard. She adjusted her career from an insurance case manager and returned to clinical nursing, so she could orient her schedule around protests and rallies.

Danielle Hawk, 27, a Democratic candidate for Congressional District 3, is another vocal abortion supporter. In October, she co-organized the North Central Florida March for Reproductive Freedom and Justice to oppose the Florida Heartbeat Act.

Hawk called the 15-week ban too extreme.

“When we’re talking about women’s reproductive rights and freedom, we really need to be talking about access to all forms of reproductive health care at any stage of life,” she said.

Rep. Carlos Smith (D-East Orlando) said he opposed the bill during a House subcommittee hearing. “We just saw and heard the desperation of those who are seeing their freedoms taken away,” he said. “All abortion bans are extreme because they rob women, and people have the freedom to make their own decisions.” (Image via screengrab from Florida House of Representatives archives)

Mariah McClaren, 21, a University of Florida accelerated nursing student who lives across from UF Health Shands, sees the issue differently.

She said she thinks women deserve resources outside of abortion.

For a year, McClaren was the senior respect life coordinator at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville, where she provided pro-life training, led collections of baby essentials like diapers, raised money for an ultrasound machine for the Community Pregnancy Clinic and prayed with church members outside the Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center.

“We are never there to judge or to discriminate,” she said. “We are there to pray for them peacefully, and to offer the resources that are available within the community.”

Mariah McClaren decided she was pro-life after starting to attend St. Augustine Catholic Church in Gainesville in 2018. “I didn't fully make it mine and grasp the idea of what it took to be actively for life in your community until college.” (Katie Delk/WUFT News)

While her pro-life sentiments were originally nourished by faith, McClaren said her science background expanded it. By 15 weeks, she said, a fetus appears like a baby and can kick.

“Science is further supporting that life begins at conception, and it must be respected and protected by others that are able to do so,” she said.

Bob White, of Brevard County and chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, said the life of a fetus is undeniable at 15 weeks. The caucus backs the bill despite the lack of exceptions for cases of rape and incest, White said.

“We're dealing with life, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its beginning,” he said. “It is life at that point, and all life ought to be protected.”

White said with a right-leaning Supreme Court, it’s the right time for the Mississippi and Florida bills and similar anti-abortion measures spreading across the nation. States enacted more abortion restrictions in 2021 than any year since Roe v. Wade in 1973, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In September, Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-Orange City) introduced the Florida “heartbeat bill.” Modeling a Texas law, it would ban abortions after a physician can detect a fetal heartbeat at six weeks. The bill faltered in the Florida GOP-controlled Legislature in 2019 and 2020.

White said he considers it a “foregone conclusion” the 15-week ban bill will become Florida law. If so, the outcome, Hawk said, will point citizens toward who to vote for.

“If they’re supporting restrictive and extreme legislation, even after we march, even after we call their offices, even after we remind them, you work for us, and we don't want this, we need to fight like hell to vote them out,” she said.

About Katie Delk

Katie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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