Health Care

Florida Senate approves ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

The bill would bring Florida in line with most of its Southern neighbors.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Florida lawmakers on Monday passed a bill that would ban virtually all abortions more than six weeks after conception, setting up the state to be in line with most of its Southern neighbors.

The bill won approval in the Senate by a 26-13 margin after more than an hour of floor debate, punctuated by shout from protestors and sometimes emotional statements from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Colleen Burton (R) acknowledged the “difficult” debates and sometimes personal attacks surrounding the issue but said her support of the bill came down to a “core belief.” 

“It’s very difficult to be a woman and to hear somebody say that you don’t care about women,” she said. “To me, it just boils down to: at the moment of conception a life is created. An innocent life is created, and I will do whatever I can as long as I have the opportunity to stand up and say: I support this bill, because it defends those lives.”

The bill would allow a pregnancy to be terminated before the third term to save the mother’s life or “avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition” as long as two physicians certify in writing that the termination is necessary, or one physician can certify that a colleague was not available for a second opinion.

Performing or “actively participating” in an abortion would result in a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or fines up to $5,000. An abortion that results in the death of a woman would result in a second-degree felony, punishable by 15 years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000.

The bill also requires that medications intended for use in a medical abortion be dispensed in person by a physician and expressly prohibits them from being dispensed through the mail.

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (D) said the restrictions are part of “a dangerous and extreme agenda.”

She recalled testimony from doctors who referred to abortion as an important part of health care and anecdotes from women and girls who were forced to go through miscarriages at home or leave the state for abortions after they were denied care — including an 11-year-old girl who was assaulted and impregnated by a family member. 

“You don’t care about privacy, or medicine or science, or truth, or even freedom,” she said. “Because you are choosing to give sacks of cells … more rights than living, breathing women and girls in this state. Not just equal rights. More rights.”

If cleared by the House and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the bill would effectively end Florida’s status as one of the lone Southern states allowing abortions in limited cases.

It would also force DeSantis, who is expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, to take a definitive position on tighter abortion restrictions after months of treading carefully around the issue, even as he has embraced the far-right position on a range of cultural issues — from gun rights to the treatment of LGBTQ people.

DeSantis has indicated he will sign the bill.

“Exceptions are sensible,” he said last month. “And like I said, we welcome pro-life legislation.” 

This story was corrected to show that the Senate passed the bill 26-13 and heads next to the House.