Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried speaks during the Occupy Tally protest across from the Florida Capitol on April 4, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
Gov. Ron DeSantis has quietly signed Florida’s new six-week abortion ban into law, continuing his trend of approving controversial new laws outside the limelight.
Aides issued a news release at 11:26 p.m. Thursday that he’d signed SB 300, the so-called Heartbeat Protection Act, mere hours after the GOP-dominated Florida House voted on final passage.
An accompanying photograph pictured DeSantis behind his desk signing the bill, flanked by some 40 mostly female supporters but also by House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, plus the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation.
“We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in a written statement. “I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families.”
The bill forbids abortions after six weeks’ gestation, or before many people realize they are pregnant. There are exceptions for rape, incest, and human trafficking, and those victims would have 15 weeks to terminate. It won’t take effect unless the Florida Supreme Court strikes down its own 1989 precedent finding protection for abortion access in the Privacy Clause of the Florida Constitution.
DeSantis deployed the same strategy in April when signing into law limits on consumers’ ability to sue insurance companies for stalling or underpaying claims and approval for permitless carry of concealed weapons.
The governor has been out of state a lot as he promotes his campaign-style book, “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” On Thursday he was in Ohio; next week, he’s due in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
‘Cloak of darkness’
Nikki Fried, former state agriculture commissioner and now head of the Florida Democratic Party posted a video on Twitter noting that DeSantis had signed the bill “under the cloak of darkness, with no cameras, no fanfare.”
Fried noted strong public disapproval of the six-week ban. Seventy-five percent of respondents either opposed or strongly opposed the idea in a recent University of North Florida poll.
“Ron DeSantis, this is on you. This is on your minions in the Republican Legislature. And don’t you dare ever stand up there and say that the people of our state are free, that this is the free state of Florida. You ended that last night in the cloak of darkness.”
Fried and Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book of Broward County were arrested last week during a protest of the abortion legislation across the street from the Capitol at Tallahassee City Hall. Book issued her own public statement about the bill signing.
“Florida’s new abortion ban turns back the clock on women’s rights and essential freedoms – bringing the government into exam rooms and criminalizing women and their doctors over private healthcare decisions,” Book said.
“But let’s be clear: Abortion until 15 weeks IS still legal in Florida, until the Supreme Court decides our fate. For now, keep your appointments for care and make new ones if you need them. If the law does go into effect, there will still be options for women – not in this state, but abortion funds will help women become medical refugees for needed healthcare. Do not take matters into your own hands, there are people who will help. Contact my office if you need to be directed to resources,” Book added.
Physicians for Reproductive Health had urged DeSantis to veto the legislation.
“Should H.B. 7/S.B. 300 go into effect it would harm all Floridians, but particularly those already facing the most barriers to care, including Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and those living in rural areas,” the organization wrote in a letter co-signed by more than 500 care providers.
“Denial of abortion care can have serious long-lasting consequences on a person’s health and well-being. Studies show women who have been denied a wanted abortion are more likely to experience high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions during the end of pregnancy, more likely to remain in relationships where interpersonal violence is present, and more likely to experience poverty,” it reads.
“The exceptions proposed in these bills are impractical and futile. Exceptions to abortion bans do not work. They force providers to waste precious time consulting with lawyers and grappling with the question “how sick is sick enough?” instead of caring for the patient before them. For survivors of rape and incest, the forced disclosure and required documentation creates yet another barrier to care and forces health care providers to bring law enforcement into patient care when it may not be wanted, exposing patients to further harm and risk of criminalization,” it adds.
Heritage Action, affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, issued a written statement attributed to Executive Director Jessica Anderson.
“Today marks a historic victory in the fight to protect life,” it reads.
“Florida’s work is an example of how protecting life can be a winning issue for conservatives across the country. The American people do not support the Left’s radical approach to abortion and want to see more states and lawmakers take similar action and clearly articulate their position on life.”
Grumbling on the right
But not all anti-abortion activists were satisfied with the new law.
“Most authentic pro-life grassroots leaders, including me, were purposely excluded from the hastily-arranged, late-night signing ceremony at the governor’s office. I believe that was because the governor and his staff know that the Heartbeat Bill is not what pro-life grassroots advocates wanted to see enacted in this new post-Roe v. Wade era, where nearly a dozen ‘red’ states — like Texas — have already become abortion-free by protecting all unborn children from the moment of conception,” said Andrew Shirvell, head of Florida Voice for the Unborn, in a written statement.
“Florida Voice for the Unborn and our grassroots supporters are not interested in meaningless photo-ops or being used to further anyone’s political ambitions. We are concerned with saving the lives of all unborn children. Period.”
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