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Abortion ban after 15 weeks signed into law in Florida

As currently written, and without being delayed by the courts, the bill will take effect on July 1.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a controversial bill that bans abortions after 15 weeks, with few exceptions, on Thursday at a church in Kissimmee.

"We are here today to protect life," said DeSantis, joined on stage by lawmakers and pro-life supporters. "We are here today to defend those who cannot defend themselves."

The legislation bans abortion if a doctor finds the gestational age of a fetus is more than 15 weeks. Exceptions are allowed if the woman's life is considered to be in danger or if the fetus is considered to have a "fatal fetal abnormality."

Two physicians must certify "the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life" or avert serious irreversible impairment. Democratic lawmakers proposed an amendment to allow just one physician to make that judgment, but it was rejected.

Another proposed amendment would've required the father of the unborn child to start paying child support 15 weeks into the pregnancy. It, too, failed.

The bill does not allow exceptions for victims of rape, incest, or trafficking despite efforts by some Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, who proposed amendments in an attempt to change this.

"I was drugged, I was put in a room, and I was raped by multiple men,” Book shared with her colleagues on the Senate floor. “Thankfully, I didn't become pregnant as a result of that assault. I was simply trying to survive, but many young girls aren't so lucky."

Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.

"Every abortion kills a special and unique human being who deserves protection under the laws of this state and the chance to grow up in a loving family. As an adopted child in a family that took in foster children, it has always been important to me that our state do everything we can to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion," Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a statement, in part.

Democratic reaction to the bill's signing was swift, including comment from Vice President Kamala Harris.

"This week, Oklahoma and Florida signed dangerous bills into law infringing on a woman's right to an abortion. Today, the Kentucky legislature also enacted an anti-abortion bill which now takes immediate effect.  We're committed to standing with women and protecting Roe v. Wade," Harris wrote.

"Let me be clear: there is no such thing as a reasonable abortion ban. Nothing in this abortion ban is moderate, it is extreme," State Representative Anna Eskamani said in a statement, in part. "...The law is a direct assault on our constitutional rights and is a part of a national effort to ban abortion and contraception across the country."

In an email blast to supporters asking for donations, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who's seeking to unseat DeSantis as governor, said today is a "dark day for women's reproductive freedom in Florida."

"Women deserve the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Period. As governor, I would veto this bill and any attempt to restrict a woman’s right to choose," he continued, in part.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who also is running against DeSantis, in a statement said, in part: "The hypocrisy of Republicans who love to brag about how ‘free’ our state is while pushing a law that will literally force women and girls to give birth is absolutely outrageous. This law is a direct attack on women’s constitutional rights, and it’s cruel, extreme, and inhumane."

The 15-week restriction is similar to a controversial Mississippi law that's currently being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In response to earlier questions about whether Florida's proposed restrictions are unconstitutional, House Speaker Chris Sprowls told 10 Tampa Bay the expectation is for the high court to uphold the Mississippi law.

A ruling is expected in June.

But even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to uphold Mississippi's ban, which would allow the Florida ban to become law, that might not be the end of the story, Stetson University College of Law constitutional law professor Louis Virelli previously told 10 Tampa Bay.

"The Florida statute will still be challenged under the Florida Constitution and the right to abortion in Florida is stronger than the right to abortion in the country as a whole," he said. "The Florida Constitution protects the right to end a pregnancy better or more rigorously than the U.S. constitution does.” 

Virelli says to survive under the Florida Constitution, there has to be a compelling government interest and be the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.

He says, over the years, the court has not viewed protecting a fetus in the first trimester as a compelling government interest.

According to Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, 79,648 abortions were performed statewide in 2021. Of those, 93.9% were in the first trimester and wouldn't be affected by this bill.

A total of 4,538 abortions were performed statewide in the second trimester. AHCA listed none in the third.

Of the second trimester abortions, 484 were performed due to "serious fetal genetic defect, deformity or abnormality" while 21 were performed due to a "life-endangering physical condition." The 21 would be exempt from the bill. Some of the 484 might be, too, if the fetal abnormality was fatal; but others might not.

In other words, a total of 4,033 women would've definitely been affected by the Florida bill if it had been law last year – give or take some, depending on how the 484 cases were ultimately classified.

In Florida, state statutes assert the first trimester carries through the 11th week of gestation, the second trimester then begins during the 12th week of gestation until the 23rd week of gestation and the third trimester is the period of time there on until birth.

As currently written, and without being delayed by the courts, the bill will take effect on July 1.