15-week abortion ban headed for Senate floor vote, lacking exception for rape

Committee kills Dem amendment shielding rape, incest survivors

By: - February 21, 2022 6:24 pm

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo said on Feb. 21, 2022, that she had been talked into supporting the anti-abortion bill’s existing language. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel.

As the bill to prohibit abortions after 15 weeks passed through its final committee test Monday, a powerful senator voiced misgivings about its lack of exceptions for rape and incest.

Republican Kathleen Passidomo, chair of the Rules Committee and next in line to become Senate President, told members of the state Appropriations Committee that sponsors had persuaded her to support the bill (HB 5) as now written, with exceptions only in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities.

The committee voted down an amendment allowing additional abortions past that stage if “the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or human trafficking,” then voted to send the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

The House has already approved the bill, doing so last week during an hours-long, passionate debate that ended after midnight. If the Senate approves it unamended, it would go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I’ve heard a lot of compelling testimony from those who are here. There’s been a lot of testimony today about an exception for rape and incest. And, frankly, I previously advocated for that change,” said Passidomo, representing Hendry and Collier and part of Lee counties.

“Over the last several days and weeks I had spoken to our bill sponsors in both the House and the Senate at length and I am convinced of their position, and I support that position here today. It is a tough issue but I support our chair and bill sponsor in that regard.”

HB 5 would prohibit an abortion “if the physician determines the gestational age of the fetus is more than 15 weeks.”

Appropriations chair Kelli Stargel, sponsor of the Senate version, argued that women who conceive due to rape or incest could still get an abortion before the 15-week point.

Stargel, a Republican representing parts of Lake and Polk counties, expressed sympathy for survivors of sexual assault but added: “I don’t think the child should be the victim as well.”

“If we are going to go to the discussion of after the 15 weeks, I think what’s also missing in this discussion is the assumption that every child that is conceived as a product of rape or incest does not deserve to live and love,” Stargel said.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book filed the rape-and-incest amendment but announced earlier during a virtual press conference that she couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting because of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Florida residents and advocacy groups spoke passionately during public testimony both for and against the bill. One self-described rape survivor called it “cruel and unusual punishment” for people like her.

Andrew Shirvell, executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn, expressed a sentiment common on his side of the debate. “The matter in which a child is conceived is irrelevant,” he said.

Jason Pizzo, a Democrat from Miami-Dade County, quizzed Stargel about whether the bill was “rooted in science or your own personal beliefs.”

“I believe that life begins at conception. And I believe these are babies and I want to do everything I can to protect them,” Stargel replied.

Other Senate Democrats argued in defense of women’s reproductive rights. Sen. Audrey Gibson said she’s “a woman of faith” but that that women should have the right to make decisions for their bodies.

“First and foremost, free will rules in my faith world,” said Gibson, from Duval County.

“My debate is very simple in opposition to this bill,” said Darryl Rouson, a Democrat representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. “This decision to me is better left to the woman, her doctor and her God.”

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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.