U.S. Supreme Court, Dec. 2, 2019. Credit: Robin Bravender
The U.S. Supreme Court’s acquiescence in Texas’ de facto ban on abortions has given Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis another chance to burnish his “pro-life” bona fides ahead of next year’s gubernatorial election and a possible run for the presidency in 2024.
It’s not clear whether he will take that chance. During a news conference last week, the governor didn’t exactly pledge to follow Texas’ lead, as Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to do. But he seemed intrigued at the prospect.
“I’m pro-life, I welcome pro-life legislation,” DeSantis said.
“What they did in Texas was interesting and I haven’t really been able to look at enough about it,” he said. “They basically did this through private right of action. And so, it’s a little bit different than how a lot of these debates have gone, so we will have to look. I am going to look more significantly at it.”
The Phoenix asked the governor’s press office whether his thinking has evolved since then but aides haven’t responded.
DeSantis referred to language in the Texas law offering $10,000 bounties to private citizens who sue people suspected of providing or facilitating access to abortion services. Even if defendants win in court, they would remain stuck paying their legal fees.
The Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the unprecedented Texas legal mechanism precluded a ruling on its constitutionality at this point. Presumably, anyone sued under the law could raise a constitutional claim at that time. For now, though, abortion providers in the state have stopped offering that service.
The Texas law targets abortions at the point when doctors detect a “fetal heartbeat” at roughly six weeks’ gestational age. But that’s a highly contested point. The dominant medical position is that the heart doesn’t form until about 10 weeks.
DeSantis has already taken steps to quash the right to terminate a pregnancy under Supreme Court precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey. In those cases, the justices said women’s right to privacy generally prevents states from intruding before the third trimester.
The justices are expected to hear another abortion case in the fall involving a Mississippi statute that would ban abortion at 15 weeks. DeSantis joined 11 GOP governors in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Mississippi. The brief argues that eliminating federal protection for abortion rights would “lower the proverbial temperature” on a thorny ethical problem and allow experimentation by states.
Meeting in regular session earlier this year, the Florida Legislature showed little appetite for bills restricting abortion rights. Proposals to ban abortions based on a detected disability in a fetus, reduce the number of weeks a mother has to terminate a pregnancy, and dictate what should be done with the fetal remains following an abortion failed to pass both the House and the Senate.
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