Republican State Rep. Erin Grall, representing Indian River County and part of St. Lucie County. Credit: FL House of Representatives.
About a month after oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court over a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, Florida State Rep. Erin Grall filed a bill that would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion after 15 weeks.
HB 5, and its companion bill SB 146, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, does not seem to include a Texas-styled enforcement measure that relies on citizens to sue people for getting or attempting an abortion or aiding someone to get an abortion.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls did not mention this legislation in his Tuesday morning speech kicking off the 2022 legislative session.
The only other bill that is connected to an abortion ban this session, which severely restricts abortion access and relies on the Texas-styled citizen enforcement measures, has not gotten traction in the Florida Legislature.
The Florida Phoenix in a story Tuesday morning mentioned a 15-week ban, based on comments made by state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando. Grall represents Indian River County and part of St. Lucie County on the Atlantic side of Florida. Stargel represents areas in Central Florida.
Grall has shepherded other abortions bans, including a law in 2020 that requires parental consent for minors getting abortions.
Current Florida law says that a “No termination of pregnancy shall be performed on any human in the third trimester of pregnancy” unless there is a medical necessity to protect the health of the mother, as confirmed by physicians.
But HB 5 says that a physician may not perform a termination of pregnancy if the physician determines the gestational age of the fetus is more than 15 weeks.
The bill also changes the definition of gestation, from “the development of a human embryo or fetus between fertilization and birth” in current law to “the development of a human embryo or fetus to as calculated from the first day of the pregnant woman’s last menstrual period.”
The current bill does allow abortions to occur after this period if the mother’s life is in danger or it is determined that fetus has not yet achieved “viability… and two physicians certify in writing that, in reasonable medical judgement, the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality.”
The bill defines “fatal fetal abnormality” as a “terminal condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb and will result in death upon birth or imminently thereafter.”
At a press conference following the State of the State address, Gov. Ron DeSantis declined to endorse Grall’s specific bill, but made it clear that he would consider abortion restrictions.
“I think that there’s a lot of pro-life legislation. You know, we’re going to be welcoming it. I haven’t looked at every single bill. I think if you look at, you know, what’s been done in some of those other states, when you start talking about, you know, 15 weeks, where you have really serious pain and heartbeats and all this stuff, you know, having protections I think is something that makes a lot of sense,” the governor said.
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson on Tuesday affirmed his support for the 15-week abortion ban.
“I’m clearly pro-life. I’ve been pro-life my entire life. I was adopted as a young child. And so we are going to let that debate happen in the committees and see where that ends up. But it’s something certainly, my first opportunity to vote for that will be when it gets to the floor and if it gets here, I will certainly be supporting that effort,” Simpson said.
Simpson told reporters that the forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks won’t impact Florida’s legislation related to abortions.
“I’ve served now nine years and we have done various pro-life bills. The most recent one I believe we did was the parental consent act…I think the Mississippi bill is a good bill and I think it’s a very good start. And I think it is something that the committee process will vet out and perhaps be on the floor at some point,” Simpson said.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Legislature were critical of HB 5.
At a 12:45 p.m. press conference at the plaza level of the Capitol Building, House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne said fighting against abortion restrictions would be a priority in the session.
“We don’t need to attack women’s reproductive health, I can tell you that,” Jenne said. He represents part of Broward County.
“I am a little surprised that it took them so long to get it (HB 5/SB 146) ready, but perhaps it was just to make a media splash on opening day,” Jenne said.
State Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat who represents part of Palm Beach County, noted that, “There is no exception for rape or for incest in the present bill,” and that there are reasons why a ban on abortions after 15 weeks “won’t work.”
“There are mothers who have abnormalities that don’t discover them until after 15 weeks,” she said at the press conference. “There are young girls who don’t even know they are pregnant until after 15 weeks. So we will be fighting.”
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County and is running for Florida governor, says that HB 5 “is a direct infringement on reproductive access.”
“Decisions about women’s health care choices should be between them and their doctors,” Taddeo said in a written statement. “We must defend a woman’s freedom to make her own health care choices. The last thing we need is Tallahassee or Washington politicians denying every woman the freedom to make informed health care choices with their doctors and their loved ones.”
But some anti-abortion groups think that 15-week abortion ban does not go far enough.
Andrew Shirvell, executive director for Florida Voice for the Unborn, said in a written statement that Gov. DeSantis and other state leaders have “chosen to do the least possible for Florida’s unborn children.”
“Accordingly, while Florida Voice for the Unborn supports the passage of today’s newly-filed pro-life bills, we will work to strengthen them as much as possible during the committee process and floor debates – because, with the Lord as our guide, Florida Voice for the Unborn works for Florida’s preborn children and no one else!” Shirvell’s written statement says.
Stephanie Fraim, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, says that the 15-week abortion ban proposed by Grall and Stargel is “cruel.”
It allows politicians to reverse precedent while pretending that’s not what they’re doing. Private, personal medical decisions need to be made by families and individuals using their own power and freedom – not politicians,” Fraim said in a written statement.
“Instead of doing their own work and listening to what their state residents want, politicians are going down a widely unpopular road and using arbitrary methods to serve their own political agendas. This is wrong.”
Deputy editor Michael Moline and reporters Issac Morgan and Imani Thomas contributed to this report.
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