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Six-week abortion ban moves through Florida Senate despite Democratic efforts

Legislators attend the first day of the 2021 Legislative Session at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday, March 2, 2021. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

Florida Senate Democrats attempted to ease restrictions during session Thursday on a bill proposing a six-week abortion ban, but 18 amendments failed.

SB 300, also known as the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” would make it illegal for a medical professional to knowingly terminate a pregnancy six-weeks after a woman’s last period.

Throughout the four hours spent discussing the bill, sponsored by Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, Democrats attempted to soften the potential impact by introducing a wide variety of amendments that would ease restrictions for minors, fetal abnormalities, religion and require child support from conception.

“This bill has four main goals,” Grall said on Thursday on the Senate floor. “The first, to protect innocent unborn babies who have a right to life.”

Two amendments introduced by Grall were approved, including changing the name of the bill to the “The Heartbeat Protection Act,” which refers to the six weeks Republicans argue is when a heartbeat begins in an embryo.

The second amendment passed was by both Sen. Grall and fellow Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, who was the only GOP member who voted against the six -week restriction committee.

Their amendment added victims of human trafficking to be granted an extension of 15 weeks, the same treatment as originally stated in the bill for victims of rape or incest.

“When a victim suspects or realizes she is pregnant,” Calatayud explains, “That initial encounter with a physician could be the only chance that woman has to get out of this situation.”

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade last year, Georgia is the only state to enact a six-week abortion ban, while 13 states have outlawed abortion completely, according to The Guttmacher Institute

As the bill has progressed through committee and inches closer to the governor’s desk, pro-choice supporters warn this six-week ban will put Florida’s women’s health in danger.

“Despite firsthand accounts from OBGYNs who are seeing every day the devastating consequences of Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban, the majority on the Senate Health Policy Committee today ignored their expertise and traumatic patient stories, rejected sound science and passed a reckless near-total abortion ban,” said Laura Goodhue, the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Evelyn Dodge, a 21-year-old student at the University of Florida, fears that a six-week abortion ban leaves little or no time for a woman to make a decision.

“Taking it away at six weeks annihilates so many women who don’t have the time to even think about pregnancy,” Dodge said. “Me personally, I don’t have a regular period so I could easily miss the six-week cut off and have no idea I was even pregnant.”

Dodge fears the dangerous alternatives to a medical abortion that she might have to resort to if no care can be provided by the state.

Maternal deaths in Florida have been steadily increasing over the last decade. According to the Florida Department of Health, the rate of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births increased from 20.2 in 2012 to 39.3in 2021.

These statistics were recorded before the overturning of Roe V. Wade when Florida was still providing abortion care up to 24 weeks.

The Senate has one final vote on The Heartbeat Protection Act, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would sign a six-week abortion ban if it made it to his desk.

“I urged the legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign,” he said at a press conference in March.

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