‘Heartbeat bill is the most likely legislation’ that could be pushed by GOP in 2023

By: - January 31, 2023 7:00 am

Examples of anti-abortion posters seen in the Florida Capitol Rotunda on Nov. 22, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Amid court challenges to Florida’s 15-week abortion ban, the leader of a statewide policy council who’s against the medical procedure believes GOP lawmakers could push for a more restrictive ban — at around six weeks — during the Legislature’s spring session.

Democrats fear that such a restriction — connected to a so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill — could threaten women’s reproductive rights even more.

Currently, Florida’s 15-week ban has no exceptions for rape or incest.

John Stemberger is a longtime attorney in Orlando and serves as the president of the Florida Family Policy Council, considered a “leading pro-life” organization. In an email to the Florida Phoenix, Stemberger said he expects an abortion ban at around six weeks, to be filed by Republicans, but it’s unclear which lawmakers will lead the effort.

When the Phoenix asked Stemberger about whether there will be a potential six-week ban and which lawmakers could be pushing it, he responded:

“Because there are so many brand-new legislators, and so many former representatives that are now senators, and then brand-new leadership in both [the] House and Senate, it’s hard to say who will carry these bills,” Stemberger said in an email to the Phoenix.

“So, I really would not want to speculate. I do think you’re correct that the heartbeat bill [considered a 6-week type abortion ban] is the most likely legislation to be supported by leadership, and ultimately, they will have great influence as to who the prime sponsors are.”

But so far, Republicans have been largely mum on the issue, including Gov. Ron DeSantis. As it stands now, lawmakers haven’t filed any legislation for further bans yet, though that could change as the March 7 legislative session draws near.

House Speaker Paul Renner recently said, “we have a ‘pro-life’ majority,” indicating that GOP lawmakers could easily push for further abortion bans in the 2023 legislative session. And Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has reiterated that she would consider a 12-week abortion ban, with exceptions for rape and incest.

Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, didn’t give specifics in an email about whether the governor is seeking further abortion restrictions but pointed to a video at a Dec. 15, 2022 news conference. In that news conference, DeSantis didn’t go into detail about potential legislation, but he said, “I’m willing to sign great life legislation. That’s what I’ve always said I would do.”

Griffin added: “The upcoming 2023 Florida legislative session starts in March, and we look forward to working with the Florida Legislature to further advance protections for innocent life.”

In September 2021, House Republican lawmaker Webster Barnaby of Volusia County filed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion bans in Florida. It was HB 167, and it was called the “Florida Heartbeat Act.” It would have prohibited abortion care after around six weeks’ gestation.

That initiative landed in a subcommittee but eventually died in the 2022 legislative session. Barnaby was the lone sponsor.

Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County told the Phoenix that she hasn’t “heard anything but I suspect Republicans will file another extreme abortion ban as they continue to take away our freedoms and get in between Floridians and their doctors.”

State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican representing part of Brevard County, said in a text message to the Phoenix that he’s unsure about any abortion legislation at the moment. “There are 85 Republican members of the house who each can file seven bills. I can’t speak for what any of them will do.”

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates have been fighting in court to block the abortion ban entirely. Just recently, abortion providers, including Florida Planned Parenthood affiliates wanted the Florida Supreme Court to expedite deliberations over the law and to block its enforcement in the meantime, the Phoenix wrote. The justices accepted jurisdiction but refused to block the law’s enforcement.

The controversial bill, HB 5, was passed by the Legislature last March and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April of 2022.

Andrew Shirvell, founder of Florida Voice for the Unborn, declined to comment in an email about any potential abortion bans for the upcoming session but argued that lawmakers need to impose a complete ban in the state.

Complete bans have been implemented in at least 13 states, according to a map from The New York Times. Georgia prohibits abortion at around 6 weeks’ gestation.

“In November 2022, pro-life Republicans attained supermajorities in both chambers of the Florida Legislature.  As such, they have more than enough votes in each chamber – at least on paper – to enact complete protections for all of Florida’s unborn children, starting at the moment of conception,” Shirvell said.

“To enact anything less than a total abortion ban would be cowardly and unacceptable in this new Dobbs era, where the U.S. Supreme Court has given, all states the opportunity to completely ban abortion within their borders for the first time since 1973. Governor DeSantis and Republican legislative leaders need to show the same boldness in protecting our state’s unborn children as they have demonstrated on so many other less important issues.”

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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.