‘Let us speak’: Crowd chanted during House committee meeting over public testimony on abortion ban

By: and - January 27, 2022 7:25 pm

A crowd gathered outside of the Florida Capitol in protest of the proposed 15-week abortion ban in Florida. January 27, 2022. Credit: Imani Thomas

A crowd in a House committee meeting Thursday evening chanted loudly, “Let us speak; let us speak,” when the chairman announced that the committee would soon end the public testimony on a proposed 15-week abortion ban.

The last speaker, a woman from Tampa Bay, began to make her remarks, and the chanting in the crowd began. The woman was then escorted out of the committee room by House security.

The crowd in the committee room continued to chant “Let us speak,” and “Abortion is health care.”

Lawmakers began to leave, including, State Rep. Erin Grall, the sponsor of the bill.

Then the crowd began saying, “All power to the people.”

Then, Capitol Police began escorting people out of the committee meeting.

Protesters then gathered outside in the courtyard at the state Capitol. They were chanting “Our body, our choice.”

Ultimately, lawmakers proceeded to debate the bill.  House members in the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee voted 10-5 in favor of the bill, HB 5.

State Rep. Bryan Avila, of Miami-Dade.

At the end of the vote, Committee Chairman Bryan Avila, of Miami-Dade said, “We had an incident.”

He thanked his colleagues for the questions and debate.

“I just want to say, you know, we, we’re certainly trying to make sure that we are able to do what we need to do….my intent, again, was to make sure each and every one of you had enough time to represent your constituents…and be able to be heard on this issue.”

This committee meeting Thursday was the second committee meeting on the proposed 15-week abortion ban. It came as anti-abortion protesters disrupted a Planned Parenthood health center in Fort Myers, leading to several arrests.

At the committee meeting starting at 4 p.m., there were three amendments; two didn’t pass. Another one did, related to $1.6 million for establishing fetal and infant mortality review committees.

The committee room was crowded, and the chairman, Avila, wanted to make sure the meeting was restricted for a two-hour period. In fact, the meeting went over, following the incident.

There’s another House committee coming up for HB 5 in the House Health and Human Resources committee. Then it would go to the full House. The Senate also has to approve the bill. The Senate has its own abortion ban bill, SB 1416, but the House has been carrying the legislation since the beginning of the legislative session.

HB 5 showed up the first day of the legislative session, on Jan. 11.

Florida has a history of lawmakers pushing to restrict legal access to abortion services, threatening the protections under Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortions.

For example, GOP members of the Florida Legislature had pushed for abortion restrictions including legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 that requires parental consent for a minor to terminate a pregnancy.

Critics, such as the ACLU of Florida have called the consent law unconstitutional. The law requires that pregnant minors receive written parental consent to get an abortion, regardless of rape or incest, as previously reported by the Florida Phoenix.

In September of 2021, Republican state Rep. Webster Barnaby filed a similar bill to Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion law that hasn’t moved so far in the 2022 legislative session.

Like the Texas version, the measure would ban abortions after about six weeks and allow private citizens to enforce it by suing individuals who help aid women in abortion services. However, the bill hasn’t been popular among some GOP lawmakers, including Senate President Wilton Simpson because of the private citizens lawsuit issue. Even Gov. DeSantis had expressed concerns about the provision that encourages citizens to bring lawsuits.

Meanwhile, a decision is looming in the U.S. Supreme Court involving a Mississippi law similar to Florida’s proposed abortion ban that prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks. The proposed 15-week ban that continues to move in the 2022 session has triggered several protests across the state from organizations on both sides of the issue surrounding abortions.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.