State Rep. Michele Rayner and Democrats following the last committee meeting in the House on H B 5. Credit: Imani Thomas.
House Bill 5, the proposed 15-week abortion ban that has rattled the abortion rights movement, continues to make its way through the Florida Legislature, despite Democratic lawmakers and activists fighting against the legislation.
People gathered in the House Health & Human Services Committee meeting Thursday for the last round of House committee hearings on HB 5 . The GOP-controlled committee voted for the ban, with a vote of 14 to 7.
Certain lawmakers wore masks that said “save our bodies,” making it known that they oppose the ban. Others began to chant. And others were angry that they couldn’t speak longer during public testimony.
Democrat State Rep. Michele Rayner of St. Petersburg filed an amendment to remove all the abortion language in the bill, but it failed.
“This amendment undermines the intention of this legislation,” said Republican Rep. Tyler Sirois, who represents part of Brevard County. He said he thinks 15 weeks is a reasonable bill.
Republican Rep. William Robinson Jr., who represents parts of Manatee and and Sarasota counties, urged the committee to vote no to Rayner’s amendment.
Robinson mentioned that he would like to see Florida join Mississippi, which has a 15-week abortion ban and is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rayner then shot back at Sirois in her closing statement on the the amendment. saying, “I’m unclear how this amendment undermines this legislation if the intent of this legislation is to protect the people of Florida.”
The amendment failed 14 to 7.
When it came time to allow people to speak on the bill, Chairman Colleen Burton announced that everyone would receive 30 seconds to speak because of the large number of people wanting to give testimony.
Democratic Ranking Member Rep. Tracie Davis who represents part of Duval County, pleaded to give people at least a minute to speak. She also announced that Democrats on the committee would forgo their time for debate and questioning to allow more time for speakers.
“This is the third and final committee hearing for HB 5. We should allow them to have longer than 30 seconds. I’m asking out loud to have public testimonies extended …. I feel like their voices have been stifled,” said Davis.
Chair Burton reasoned with Democrats and allowed 45 seconds instead of the 30.
Dr. John Littell, a family physician from Ocala, approached the committee with a heart monitor, saying “Those 15 weeks of a pregnancy are astonishing and we shouldn’t take that away from a mother.”
A 20-weeks pregnant woman came up and begged the committee for the bill to be approved, saying, “These babies are humans at this stage — every part of a baby is already there.”
Another supporter of the bill compared the 15-week abortion ban to the death of George Floyd, which ruffled the feathers of audience members and some legislators in the committee.
A 4th-year medical student fought back and said before she was told to leave the podium, “Keep George Floyd’s name out of your mouth when you are discussing the rights of marginalized people,” referencing the prior speaker.
Several people in the audience, including Rep. Rayner, snapped their fingers in support of the medical student’s statement.
After that, Burton said that snapping and clapping wasn’t allowed during the meeting.
Several people tried to read testimonies on another person’s behalf, which Chair Burton didn’t allow.
“You can only represent yourself you can email the letters,” said Burton.
One woman approached the committee saying, “I will not state my name due to you all not caring what we have to say.”
She then looked back and started a chant –“stand up fight back” — most people in the audience joined in on the chant. A sergeant escorted the woman out.
The next step will be the full House. But the Florida Senate would have approve a 15-week ban as well.
Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida’s legislative director and senior policy counsel, said in a statement: “The majority of Floridians overwhelmingly support access to safe, legal and accessible abortion care. This bill is blatantly unconstitutional.
“Medical decisions should be made between patients and their doctors, not politicians. Every Floridian deserves access to health care without barriers or political roadblocks.
“Denying access to reproductive care will have a significant impact on people who already face systemic racism and discrimination in this country: People of color, people who are undocumented, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, as well as people who have low-incomes, or live in rural areas. This bill will continue to reinforce the structural inequalities within Florida’s already broken health care system.”
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