Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a 15-week abortion ban into law Thursday as the state joined a growing conservative push to restrict access to the procedure ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could roll back abortion rights in America.
"This will represent the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation," DeSantis said as he signed the bill at an evangelical church in the city of Kissimmee.
Republicans nationwide have moved to place new restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court signaled it would uphold a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks. The high court's decision, expected this summer, could potentially weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
The law DeSantis signed Thursday deals a significant blow to overall abortion access in the South, where Florida has provided wider access to the procedure than its regional neighbors.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, contains exceptions if the abortion is necessary to save a mother’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow for exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking, despite several Democratic attempts to amend the bill. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.
Debate over the proposal grew deeply personal and revealing inside the legislature, as lawmakers recalled their own abortions and experiences with sexual assault in often tearful speeches on the House and Senate floors. Republicans have repeatedly called the 15-week ban reasonable, citing state statistics that show only 6% of Florida's abortions last year occurred after the first trimester, or after the 11th week.
Democrats were quick to criticize the new law after the signing.
"Politicians have no business getting between a patient and her doctor," said House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne. "This 15-week abortion ban takes away every woman’s right to make personal decisions that should only be made by themselves, with their family, their doctor, and their faith."
The legislation came a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority indicated it would uphold Mississippi’s 15-week ban. There also has been substantial support among the conservative justices for getting rid of Roe altogether.
If Roe is overturned, 26 states are certain or likely to quickly ban or severely restrict abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights. During the debate over the Florida legislation, as well as at the bill's signing ceremony, Republicans said they want the state to be well placed to limit access to abortions if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s law.
"The reality of the Roe decision is that men on the Supreme Court proclaimed that women, in order to achieve equality with men, must be able to kill their own children," said Republican Rep. Erin Grall, the bill's sponsor. "As a woman, I refuse to accept such a perverse version of equality."
Elsewhere in the U.S., Republican lawmakers have introduced new abortion restrictions, some similar to a Texas law that bans abortion after roughly six weeks and leaves enforcement up to private citizens.
Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt recently signed a bill to make it a felony to perform an abortion, punishable by up to a decade in prison. Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in March signed legislation to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks if the U.S. Supreme Court leaves Mississippi’s law in place.
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