Florida’s House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday banning abortion after six weeks, a measure that will have massive consequences for swathes of the southern United States.
The bill passed by a vote of 70–40, mainly along party lines. It now goes to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law. The measure prohibits abortion after six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant. It makes exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or to save the life of the pregnant person. However, two doctors have to agree the abortion was “necessary,” and the patient “must provide a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation proving” they were the victim of rape or incest.
Florida previously allowed abortion up to 15 weeks, making it a major hub for people traveling out of their home state for the procedure. If the bill becomes law, it will cut off abortion access for a majority of the southeastern states.
Several Democrats shared stories of people who had miscarried or been harmed when they were denied an abortion.
“Hearing these stories, it just really brings home how the decisions that we make have an impact,” said Hillary Cassel. “These are the exact scenarios where we are reminded that abortion is health care. That women, as a result of these obstacles being created … are going to die. Women are going to be rendered unable to be have wanted pregnancies in the future.”
House Democrats had proposed nearly 50 amendments aimed at trying to lessen the negative effects of the bill, including striking down the ban entirely, banning state funds from going to clinics run by religious organizations that try to convince people not to get an abortion, and making it easier to prove someone qualifies for an abortion. All of the amendments were voted down.
The bill will also lower the amount of money that the state Department of Health is required to spend on pregnancy and parental support services to 85 percent, down from 90 percent. These services include pregnancy testing, counseling, prenatal classes, adoption education, and material aid such as diapers and formula. Abortion rights advocates regularly point out that states with some of the toughest abortion laws often fail to set up social welfare systems to support children after they are born. People can currently receive such support for up to a year after the child is born. The bill removes that element.
The measure removes the clause that specifically states abortion regulations “may not impose an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s freedom to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy,” specifically stripping away people’s autonomy.
The debate was temporarily delayed when protesters began shouting in the gallery. The House took a 10-minute recess, during which security cleared the gallery and closed doors to spectators. Protesters gathered outside the chamber and were joined by Democratic lawmakers in chanting and singing.
If it becomes law, as it is expected to, the bill will have a significant negative effect across the rest of the South. Florida has become an abortion haven in the region, as many neighboring states have imposed harsher restrictions on the procedure since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Earlier this month, North Carolina Representative Tricia Cotham changed affiliation to Republican from Democratic, giving the GOP a supermajority in the state, and said she was open to new abortion restrictions. State Republicans introduced a bill in March that defines life as beginning at fertilization and makes it a felony to perform an abortion. Though Cotham hasn’t commented on that specific bill, Republican leaders seem confident they have the votes to pass new anti-abortion legislation. North Carolina is currently another Southern abortion haven. If that bill becomes law, then abortion access will be nearly wiped out for the entire southeastern U.S.