TALLAHASSEE — A seismic shift in abortion rights could be coming in Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis late Thursday signed a measure to prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
But whether the six-week limit goes forward will hinge on a case before the state Supreme Court.
The Republican-dominated House on Thursday voted 70-40 to give final approval to the bill (SB 300), which the Senate passed early this month and supporters called the “Heartbeat Protection Act.” DeSantis signed the bill several hours after it passed the House.
“We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families.”
The case pending at the Supreme Court challenges a 15-week abortion limit that lawmakers and DeSantis approved last year. That case at least temporarily puts the six-week limit on hold.
Seven abortion clinics and a physician filed a lawsuit arguing the 15-week limit violates a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution that has protected abortion rights since a 1989 Supreme Court decision.
Republicans have long argued that the privacy clause was never intended to protect abortion rights and that the court should back away from legal precedents on the issue. If that happens, the six-week limit would be able to move forward. It remains unclear when the Supreme Court will rule on the issue.
The six-week restriction spurred a nearly all-day, often-emotional debate Thursday in the House.
“Enough is enough,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said. “It is time that we listen to women, that we trust women, that we trust families and allow them to make these most intimate decisions of home and heart, without Tallahassee politicians looking over their shoulders.”
Supporters of the bill said it would protect life and that fetal heartbeats can be detected at six weeks of pregnancy.
“Life begins at conception,” Rep. Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, said. “Thank God that our mothers, all of us in this room, did not choose to end the life of us when we were in the womb. That is the most vulnerable place for babies, and they deserve to be protected.”
Opponents of the bill argued that it represented a de facto ban on abortion, because many women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks.
“That decision should be yours, your families, your doctors and your faith, and not politicians,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. “We (lawmakers) should have no say in this personal, private decision that impacts so many people in our state.”
Thursday’s vote was largely along party lines, though seven Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.