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DeSantis signs a 15-week ban on most abortions into law

DeSantis at the podium
Gov. Ron DeSantis
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a 15-week abortion ban into law during a press conference in Kissimmiee on April 14, 2022.

The law is scheduled to take effect in July, but opponents say they will challenge the law in court.

Saying it "represents the most significant protections for life in the state's modern history," Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

The law, which takes effect July 1, will replace one that allowed abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Flanked by Republican lawmakers, DeSantis signed the bill at Nacion de Fe, a Kissimmee church where former Vice President Mike Pence made a 2020 campaign stop to court Latino voters. The governor took the stage as screens displayed the message “Florida protege el derecho la vida,” or “Florida protects the right to life.”

“We are here today to protect life. We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves,” DeSantis said.

Meantime, Democrats and abortion-rights groups said the bill is unconstitutional and an affront to women’s rights. Opponents including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union said they are planning legal challenges.

The law is modeled after another in Mississippi that also bans abortions after 15 week. That law is being considered at the Supreme Court, where justices in the six-member conservative majority appear willing to uphold the law, which could lead to a scaling back or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

At the Kissimmee gathering, Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who sponsored the 15-week limit in the Senate, took aim at Roe v. Wade during the bill-signing in Kissimmee. Roe v. Wade generally has allowed women to have abortions until about 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“When I ran for office this was something I never dreamed, that we’d be to a day where … we’re looking to the potential of Roe v. Wade being overturned,” Stargel said, eliciting loud applause from the crowd. “And that we’re protecting the life of every single baby past 15 weeks of gestation.”

House Sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, also criticized the 1973 decision.

“The reality of the Roe decision is that men on the Supreme Court proclaimed that women, in order to achieve equality with men, must be able to kill their own children. As a woman, I refuse to accept such a perverse version of equality,” Grall said.

The Florida law, one of the most intensely disputed issues of the 2022 legislative sessions, also marks a significant blow to abortion access in the South, where the state has provided wider access to the procedure than its regional neighbors.

Groups including Planned Parenthood warn that marginalized communities, including Black and Latino residents, will have the added burden of traveling out of state for the procedure.

"We've entered a dangerous time for Floridians' reproductive freedom. In just a few months, thousands of pregnant people in Florida will no longer be able to access the care they need without leaving their state," said Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson in a statement. "The supporters of this bill have put their own political ambitions and beliefs before the health and futures of their constituents."

The law does not make exceptions for cases of incest, rape or human trafficking. It does allow an abortion if it would save the life of a pregnant person or prevent serious injury to them.

The law also includes exceptions for fetal abnormalities that are discovered after 15 weeks. In such cases, two doctors must sign off saying the baby will die shortly after birth before an abortion can happen.

Critics slammed the Legislature for rejecting proposed changes to the bill that would have added an exception for victims of rape or incest.

"Not to consider women's rights to choose is outrageous," Gricel Gonzelez, press secretary for the Florida Democrat Party, said in a statesment. "Women who have been victims of rape, incest, and human trafficking have already been through enough emotional trauma and ignoring this is a direct attack against women. This radical and abject hostility towards women's rights is unacceptable. For decades women have been victims of men trying to make decisions for them, and Gov. DeSantis' actions are no exception."

Florida is not the only state using Mississippi's law as a blueprint. Republican lawmakers in West Virginia and Arizona have proposed similar legislation in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling.

Last May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that effectively bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected or as early as six weeks. The Supreme Court has declined three times to take up the challenge to the Texas abortion law.

Florida's bill passed the state House in mid-February and then went to the state Senate. In both chambers, lawmakers of both parties shared personal experiences with sexual assault and abortion and how it informed their votes.

Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy shared that she had previously gotten an abortion and was "ashamed because I will never get to know the unborn child that I could have had."

"It's something I have regretted every day since," Trabulsy said. "This is the right to life and to give up life is unconscionable to me."

In the Senate, Democrat Lauren Book pushed for an amendment to the bill that would have allowed exceptions for incest, rape or human trafficking. Book spoke of her own experience of sexual abuse and rape.

"It's not OK to force someone who's been sexually assaulted and impregnated to carry that pregnancy to term if they don't want to, it's just not," she said. "And if a woman or a girl needs more than 15 weeks to decide, we should be able to give that to her."

Last week, a Leon County circuit judge upheld the constitutionality of a 2015 law that requires a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in the state.

Information from WUSF staff writer Cathy Carter, News Service of Florida, NPR and the Associated Press was used in this report.

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