Did DeSantis endorse abortion ‘heartbeat’ legislation? Nope — not really

By: - February 2, 2023 2:27 pm

At least a 100 anti-abortion protesters gathered at the Florida Capitol building on Nov. 22, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Democrats have leapt to denounce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ apparent endorsement of a ban on abortion in Florida after six weeks’ gestation. But that endorsement is less solid than it might seem.

During a news conference Wednesday in which he released his $114.8 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, the governor was asked about a six-week ban plus pending legislation allowing people to carry concealed weapons without training or a permit (labled “constitutional carry” by supporters).

“Governor, what are the chances you’ll sign the six-week heartbeat bill if it comes to your desk. And do you also support the concealed carry or constitutional carry bill?” the reporter asked.

Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled the state budget for 2023-24 on Feb. 1, 2023. Credit: Issac Morgan

“I have said on both of those, we are for constitutional carry, we’re pro-life. I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign,” DeSantis said.

American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned rapid-response organization, issued a press release on Thursday calling attention to the governor’s language in light of his likely run for president during 2024.

“Yesterday, 2024 hopeful and Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said that he would sign a six-week abortion ban if the state Legislature sends it to his desk,” the group said in a press release.

“DeSantis previously signed an extreme abortion ban that offered no exceptions for rape or incest — now he promises to sign an even more restrictive law, which would ban abortion before most people even know they are pregnant,” it said.

(That law bars the procedure after 15 weeks; a state trial judge ruled it violated the Florida Constitution, but the matter is now before the Florida Supreme Court. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo favors a 12-week ban with exceptions for rape and incest. No abortion-related legislation had been filed as of Thursday for the regular legislative session that opens next month.)

‘Spread the word’

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic state House member from Orange County, also raised the alarm.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani. Credit: Colin Hackley

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would sign a six-week abortion ban. Please spread the word so people know how extreme he is. Most people do not even know they are pregnant at 6 weeks, and we’ve already seen the damage of such bans in Florida and in surrounding states,” Eskamani said on Twitter.

The anti-abortion LifeNews.com picked up on DeSantis’ comment. “BREAKING: Governor Ron DeSantis Confirms He’ll Sign Heartbeat Bill Banning Abortions,” the publication wrote on Twitter.  (Supporters use the expression “heartbeat bill” because they’re convinced the fetal heart begins to beat at around six weeks.)

Here at the Phoenix, we didn’t take the governor’s comments as an unambiguous endorsement, which he surely could have offered if he’d felt so inclined. Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, saw no need to resolve any ambiguity either, referring a reporter to the video log on the governor’s Rumble page.

Hedging his bets

Andrew Shirvell, founder and president of Florida Voice for the Unborn, believes DeSantis is hedging his bets on one of the touchiest issues in politics.

Andrew Shirvell of Florida Voice for the Unborn at FL Capitol May 24, 2022. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

“The only pro-life advocates who now want a ‘Heartbeat Law’  … are the leaders of the overly cautious pro-life establishment in Florida and beyond. By contrast, everyday grassroots pro-lifers — led by Florida Voice for the Unborn — have been relentlessly advocating for a complete abortion ban in Florida since the leak of the Dobbs decision last May,” Shirvell told the Phoenix by email.

“Gov. DeSantis is smart enough to recognize this dichotomy and that’s why, in my opinion, he has been keeping all options on the table by making repeated vague public statements as to what he wants to see accomplished legislatively on the pro-life front,” Shirvell continued.

“One thing is certain, however. If, by the opening day of the 60-day regular legislative session on March 7, no further abortion prohibitions have been introduced, the lion’s share of the blame will go to Gov. DeSantis for failing to lead in a more decisive manner. We shall see what unfolds in the weeks ahead.”

John Stemberger, a longtime attorney in Orlando and president of the Florida Family Policy Council, told the Phoenix in an email that he expects an abortion ban at around six weeks, to be filed by Republicans, but it’s unclear which lawmakers will lead the effort.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.