TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature passed a ban on most abortions after six weeks Thursday, sending the bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said he would sign it.
Final passage came after a marathon floor hearing in the state House, which passed the proposal largely along party lines in a 70-40 vote after the Senate passed it on April 3.
Democrats in the chamber forcefully opposed the legislation but were vastly outnumbered by Republican supermajorities in both chambers. GOP House Speaker Paul Renner had to close the public viewing galleries after protesters threw what appeared to be paper onto the House floor.
It capped off what has been a hugely contentious process to pass the legislation, SB 300, which DeSantis has signaled support for, but it puts him in a tricky political position. He is considering a 2024 bid for president, but most public polling shows a six-week abortion ban is unpopular among both political parties.
Yet at the same time, entering a Republican presidential primary on the heels of vetoing or opposing legislation that would expand abortion restrictions risks running against a key tenet of the GOP platform.
The measure would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with new exceptions for rape and incest up until 15 weeks. The measure would not change the exceptions for the life and health of the mother up until 15 weeks that are in current law.
The new exemptions were sought by Republican state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and agreed to by other Republicans. The bill also includes $25 million to expand Florida Pregnancy Care Network Inc., a statewide network of nonprofit groups that offer pregnancy support services.
The proposal has been the subject of protests and outbursts since it was filed March 7, shortly before DeSantis gave his State of the State address on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session.
As the Senate considered the proposal on the floor last week, Passidomo also had to clear the public gallery overlooking her chamber after a series of outbursts from opponents.
That night, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikki Fried and state Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book were among nearly a dozen people arrested while protesting the bill outside Tallahassee City Hall, which neighbors the State Capitol. Leading up to the House vote, a group of protesters held a multiday protest in front of a courthouse across the street from the Capitol.
The more than seven hours of floor debate featured many of the arguments that were raised during the bill's three previous committee stops.
"There is nothing I am saying that will change the hearts and minds of my friends on the other side of the aisle,” Republican Rep. Chase Tramont said. “That’s not what this is about. This is about holding up the flagship commitment I made … which is to give voice to the voiceless.”
Democrats said the proposal would further infringe on a person's right to choose and have negative impacts on their health care.
"The right to bodily autonomy is an innate right," Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman said. "My body is mine. We do not want unclear laws and muddy waters."
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that there is no constitutional right to an abortion — a legal challenge that stemmed from Mississippi's passing a 15-week abortion ban — women throughout the Southeast have been going to Florida to get abortions after surrounding states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama banned them.
The number of women seeking abortions in Florida from out of state increased from 3,988 in 2020 to 6,708 in 2022, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Overall, the number of abortions in the state grew from 74,868 to 82,192 over the same time.
“Here in Florida we take care of patients within the state of Florida and many people traveling not only from nearby states but those much farther away," said Dr. Shelly Tien, who works at Planned Parenthood Southeast.
"I have seen patients from places as far away as places like Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi," she said. "Those patients are living at or near poverty."
She pushed back against any idea that Florida is an “abortion haven” just because the procedure is still allowed in the state, noting that there has annually been legislation eroding access.
“To me a haven is a place of protection and safety and justice,” she said.
Once it is signed into law, the six-week ban will be on hold pending a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban DeSantis signed into law after the state’s 2022 legislative session. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of abortion providers challenged it in court, arguing that privacy provisions in the state constitution protect the right to an abortion.
“The 15-week abortion ban is still awaiting a hearing in the Florida Supreme Court to determine whether it is a legally based bill,” Democratic state Rep. Yvonne Hinson said. “I wonder how much Florida money is being spent on legal fees attempting to defend that bill.”
Florida was among a handful of Republican-led states to pass 15-week abortion bans last year in anticipation of a potential Supreme Court ruling.
DeSantis signed the 15-week ban at a bill-signing ceremony near Orlando in April 2022, which featured anti-abortion advocates and Republican legislators. In February, he said “we will sign” when he was asked at a news conference whether he would approve the six-week abortion ban, but he has not been the face of the legislative effort.
It has been led, in large part, by Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican who was the lead sponsor of both the six- and 15-week bans last session.
Recent polling finds the six-week abortion ban is not popular among Florida residents of either political party. A University of North Florida poll in March found 75% of 1,452 respondents said they either somewhat or strongly opposed the six-week ban. That included 61% of Republicans.
The same poll had DeSantis leading former President Donald Trump among registered Republicans in a hypothetical 2024 presidential matchup, 52% to 27%, with no other candidate getting out of single digits.