Florida Republicans pass bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks


Republican lawmakers in Florida passed a bill on Thursday evening to ban abortion after 15 weeks, nine weeks earlier than is currently allowed in the state.

The governor, Ron DeSantis, is expected to sign the bill, which is modeled on a Mississippi law that has become the subject of a supreme court case that could severely curtail or perhaps overturn abortion rights nationally.

“Let me be clear: there is no such thing as a reasonable ban,” said the Democratic representative Anna Eskamani, in response to the bill’s passage. “Despite impassioned pleas by Democrats to include exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking, none were accepted by the Republican majority.”

The new bill also drew rebuke from the Biden administration, which called it “extreme by any standard”.

“The right of women to make decisions about their own bodies is non-negotiable,” Vice-President Kamala Harris said in a statement. “If signed into law, Florida’s bill would violate the constitutional right to abortion that the supreme court has recognized for nearly 50 years.”

Under current federal law, women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally regarded as 24 weeks. That right was established in a landmark 1973 supreme court case, Roe v Wade, which invalidated dozens of state abortion bans. Until recently this meant Florida’s bill would have been almost certain to be permanently blocked by federal courts, if DeSantis did sign it.

However, in December the supreme court heard oral arguments in a case that centers on a 15-week ban in Mississippi. During arguments in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, the court’s conservative majority appeared open to severely curtailing or perhaps reversing the rights found in Roe v Wade.

If abortion law were returned to the states, 26 states would be expected to rapidly outlaw abortion. A decision in Dobbs is expected in June.

Southern states have been emboldened to pass increasingly draconian abortion bans. Florida’s ban, for example, is scheduled to go into effect on 1 July.

It is also notable given Florida has long been considered “purple”: though it has been controlled by Republicans for two decades, the state’s evenly split electorate meant it has been a presidential battleground for just as long.

The abortion ban joins a slate of other “anti-woke” conservative bills Republicans pushed in a contentious legislative session this year, powered in part by DeSantis’s apparent presidential ambitions.

Abortion restrictions in the US come as nations around the world have continued to liberalize abortion laws, including in Latin America countries historically hostile to abortion.

Abortions after 15 weeks are not common, and are more expensive and logistically complicated than earlier abortions. Only 11% of women who terminate a pregnancy do so in the second trimester (after 13 weeks). Slightly more than 1% of people who obtain an abortion do so after 21 weeks.

Fetal anomalies are one reason pregnant people may seek to terminate a second trimester pregnancy. Although anomalies can be detected at any time, some may not be found until after 20 weeks, when pregnant people undergo a lengthy sonogram focused on fetal anatomy.

In hearings, the Republican representative Dana Trabulsy said she had an abortion and regretted it. “This is the right to life, and to give up life is unconscionable to me,” she said.

A peer-reviewed survey of nearly 1,000 US women showed 95% of women felt their abortion was the right decision for them.

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