Republican Erin Grall closes on her bill outlawing abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation late at night on Feb. 16, 2022. Credit: Imani Thomas
People came from all over the state and filled the Florida House gallery during Wednesday’s final debate on the bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks. They watched emotional speeches on both sides during the six hours the House chamber devoted to the discussion.
They didn’t all remain quiet. As bill sponsor Erin Grall offered her closing speech, some in the gallery began chanting, “My body, my choice.”
It merely delayed the inevitable. House Speaker Chris Sprowls ordered the disruptors cleared from the gallery and the House, dominated by anti-abortion Republicans, approved the bill on a 78-39 vote, completed a few minutes after midnight.
“The pro-choice movement, the pro-abortion movement, they do not own all women,” Grall said after order was restored.
“The irony is never lost on me. The decision made in Roe, a majority decided in that case, that in order for women to be equal, we must be permitted to kill our children. Think of the tragedy in that. I don’t need to kill my child to be equal to a man,” she said.
Now attention turns to the state Senate, where its version (SB 146) awaits a hearing by the Appropriations Committee before a final floor vote.
The bill (HB 5) clearly violates decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent but Republicans expect the justices to toss aside that jurisprudence in a pending case testing similar legislation already approved in Mississippi.
A string of Democrats offered the usual arguments against the bill: That abortion represents needed health care for many women; that the state provides insufficient support for mothers and children; that the bill lacks protections for survivors of rape and incest. Its only exemption to the 15-week ban would be for fatal fetal deformities as attested to by two doctors.
Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orange County, recalled her days as a Planned Parenthood volunteer walking patients into a clinic past protesters — and that her own mother underwent the procedure because the family couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.
“Abortion bans impact every sort of person but, if you have money, you will still be able to express bodily autonomy and leave this state” to seek an abortion, Eskamani said.
“This bill punishes poor people for being poor. It takes away their rights more than anyone else.”
“If we take this away women will not have equal rights in this state. We are trying to force women to do something they don’t want to do. When my daughter grows up I want her to see that I stood up for women in Florida,” Orange County Democrat Travaris McCurdy said.
“We are not living up to the constitution,” said Susan Valdes, a Democrat who represents parts of Hillsborough County.
“The 15 weeks ban isn’t based on science; motherhood should not be a punishment,” Valdes said, tearing up. “I’m asking you to trust women, this is women’s health care, I’m asking you to vote no.”
To its supporters, the measure was a way to respect the sanctity of life.
“I rise in support of this bill today. This is a problem that this bill will solve protecting human life. Here in the state of Florida we don’t kill babies,” said Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck, representing Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee and part of St. Lucie counties.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Mississippi legislation, and the court’s new conservative supermajority has the votes, if it wants, to overrule Roe v. Wade, which established a fundamental privacy right to abortion services through fetal viability, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which bars states from erecting undue burdens to the procedure.
The Florida Supreme Court has recognized a right to abortion under the Florida Constitution, but it’s unclear whether the new conservative majority there would respect that precedent; the new justices have proven quite willing to reverse even relatively recent precedents.
“We are not in the courtroom; we need to be careful of what we say when talking about what is and what is not constitutional,” said Republican Cord Byrd, representing Nassau County.
Several members protested the lack of an exemption for rape and incest — and lawmakers on both sides discussed their own experience with sexual violence including incest. For example, Democrat Kristen Arrington of Osceola County disclosed her own rape.
“I know me sharing this won’t change anything, but I’m asking for the victims of rape and incest to be consider when you vote on this bill,” Arrington said.
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