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While some push for change, Florida's new leaders say abortion legislation is not a top priority

A day before Florida's electors gathered at the Capital Monday, the state's Senate President tested positive for COVID-19.
Erich Martin
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A day before Florida's electors gathered at the Capital Monday, the state's Senate President tested positive for COVID-19.

After Republicans won a super majority in the Florida legislature some conservative groups hoped that might open the door to passing further restrictions on abortion. But as the state’s new leaders met for a recent organizational session, abortion legislation was not named among their top priorities.

Dianne Knight from St. Cloud joined a group of protestors during the organizational session calling for greater restrictions on abortion access as they chanted outside the Senate chambers and later in the Capitol courtyard.

“I am here to show our senators and representatives that they need to do something about abortion and it shouldn’t be legal. It’s a child’s right to be born," Knight said.

Knight wants to see a full ban that would make no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or even the health of the pregnant person.

“I actually was one of those babies and my father had to go to the hospital and decide who was going to live, her or me and he said, 'they’re both going to live you’re going to do your best' and I think that’s some thing that is totally God and that’s where it needs to stay," Knight said.

But in the Senate chambers, the tone was different. New Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said she had not even realized the protesters were outside.

“I was so wrapped up in what was going on and so nervous or whatever that I found out that they were here afterwards," Passidomo said.

Some lawmakers have suggested reducing the 15-week abortion ban passed last session to a 12-week ban. Passidomo said she’s not opposed, but despite the push from activists, she doesn’t expect much movement on abortion legislation anytime soon.

"Until the Supreme Court weighs in on the 15 weeks there’s really not much we can do. Everybody knows my position on the exception for rape and incest. I wanted to get it in the bill. We didn’t get it in the 15-week bill, but there’s really nothing we can do until the Supreme Court rules," Passidomo said.

New House Speaker Paul Renner said there’s a "pro-life" majority in the legislature now but, he added, "I can guarantee you that members on both sides have very different opinions about what it means to be pro-life.”

Florida passed a law last session that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It makes no exceptions for rape and incest, but does make exceptions when the person’s life is in danger or in the case of certain fatal fetal abnormalities. That law is facing a challenge before the state supreme court. Florida justices have found in the past that a part of the state constitution that protects a person’s right to privacy protects their right to seek an abortion before viability. Some expect the new more conservative justices now on the bench to overturn that finding.

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