Los Angeles Times
Florida, abortion law and 2024
How a stricter ban might affect access in the South — and the race for president.
TALLAHASSE, Fla. — Less than a year after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an expected Republican presidential contender, signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, he’s showing support for an even stricter ban introduced this week by state lawmakers.
His position could have implications for access to abortion not only in Florida but across the South — and also figure into the 2024 presidential race.
Current Florida law
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling, giving states control over abortion. Some conservative legislatures had passed bills years in advance that would ban abortion if Roe were overturned. Florida wasn’t among those states, but lawmakers there acted after a leak of a draft version of the new ruling, Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that January.
Lawmakers in Florida agreed to ban abortions after 15 weeks, with an exception for life-threatening pregnancies but not in cases of rape or incest. DeSantis signed the ban last April and it took effect that July.
The proposed ban
The deeper ban, proposed as Florida’s legislative session opened on Tuesday, would make it a crime to provide an abortion after six weeks’ gestational age.
There would be an exception for life-threatening pregnancies, and exceptions until 15 weeks for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Those cases would require documentation such as a medical record, restraining order or police report.
The measure would also require that the drugs for medication-induced abortions — the majority of abortions in the U.S. — could be dispensed only in person by a physician.
DeSantis this week called the rape and incest provisions “sensible” and reiterated his support for tighter restrictions, saying, “We welcome pro-life legislation.”
If Republican lawmakers can agree on the details, the measure is likely to become law.
DeSantis was easily reelected in November, when Republicans also gained veto-proof majorities in the state Legislature.
Impact in the South
With bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy in nearby Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and a ban on terminating pregnancies in Georgia after early cardiac activity can be detected — around six weeks — Florida has become a haven for those seeking abortions in the region.
A ban at the gestational age of six weeks would mean fewer people traveling to Florida for abortions, and more looking at going even farther away, to places including North Carolina and Illinois.
“A six-week ban is a really substantial shock to practical abortion access across the South,” said Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College in Vermont who studies abortion access.
There would also be an impact for Florida residents.
Nationally, only about 4% of abortions occur after the 15-week mark, but most of them happen after 6 weeks and 6 days.
Myers said that in states with six-week bans, it appears about half of the people seeking abortions have been able to get them.
Abortion bans are important for many Republican primary voters, and the ban DeSantis signed into law last year was far less aggressive than the laws in most GOP-controlled states. Thirteen states now have effective bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and half a dozen have similar laws on the books but have had enforcement stopped by courts.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, another possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate, was asked in a CBS News interview last year whether she would nudge DeSantis to further restrict abortion.
“I think that talking about situations and making statements is incredibly important,” she said. “But also taking action and governing and bringing policies that protect life are even more important, because that’s what truly will save lives.”
Moving Florida closer to what other GOP-controlled states have done on abortion by enacting the sixweek ban could be important as DeSantis presents himself as the architect of conservative policies in a state that he says is doing what the nation should.
Florida Republicans’ legislative agenda for the coming months includes making guns more available, keeping immigrants who are in the country illegally out of the state, telling teachers which pronouns they can use for students and criminalizing some drag shows.
DeSantis is expected to launch his presidential candidacy formally after the legislative session wraps in May, though the wheels of his campaign are already in motion. He spoke in the early nominating state of Iowa on Friday, and a former Trump White House official launched a group on Thursday encouraging DeSantis to run for president.
While aggressive abortion bans are popular with many conservatives, they are considered unpopular among other crucial voting blocs — especially suburban women who play an outsized role in general elections.
In 2022, there were ballot measures dealing with abortion in six states, including generally conservative Kansas, Kentucky and Montana. In each of them, the abortion-rights side prevailed.