Florida’s own abortion debate
GOP looks to chip away at Roe v. Wade, Dems are ready for a fight
As anti-abortion laws spread across America, Florida’s debate is heating up as the Republican-controlled Legislature looks to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the law of the land for almost 50 years.
Florida legislators introduced at least four bills this year to restrict abortions, although none passed amid concerns they could antagonize a segment of the electorate with President Trump’s reelection campaign just getting started.
Both sides are gearing up for a clash next year.
“None of them passed, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “I anticipate they’ll be back in Florida with the same bills. The fight isn’t over. It has just begun.”
Neighboring states passed farreaching abortion bans this year that could pave the way for Florida and other Republican-controlled states to impose new restrictions on abortion.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a near-total abortion ban that doesn’t include exceptions for rape or incest. Doctors who violate the ban could face up to 99 years in prison. Lawmakers in Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio passed bills that prohibit most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks.
Florida lawmakers took up a bill that would have banned most
abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. Another measure would have required minors obtain parental consent to have an abortion.
Alabama’s law seeks to challenge the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. With recent appointments, both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have become more conservative. Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed three conservative-leaning justices, while President Donald Trump appointed justices Neil Gorsuch and Bret Kavanaugh.
During the GOP primary, DeSantis indicated he would sign a fetal heartbeat bill if it landed on his desk.
Florida’s heartbeat bill didn’t get a hearing. The parental consent bill for a minor to have an abortion passed the House but didn’t get a vote on the Senate floor.
Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, sponsored the heartbeat bill in the House. He said leadership didn’t view abortion as a legislative priority this session, and they wanted abortion bills to have female sponsors.
Had the heartbeat bill made it to a floor vote, Hill thinks it probably would have passed.
“I don’t understand how life cannot be a priority,” Hill said. “I don’t let disappointment turn into discouragement. You tighten up your belt and get ready for the next round.”
As the legislative session started, Republican House Speaker José Oliva faced criticism for using the term “host body” during an interview with CBS Miami when referring to women. Oliva later apologized, saying he was using a medical term and didn’t mean to cause offense.
Susan MacManus, a longtime Florida-based political analyst, said Republicans likely wanted to focus on issues that would resonate with a wider group of Floridians, such as transportation, the environment and education.
Suburban women will play a key role in the 2020 presidential election, she said.
“This was not an issue Republicans wanted to elevate to the top of the list,” MacManus said. “There was awareness that suburban women could be flipped over to Democrats on this issue.”
The heartbeat bill also would have had to clear committees chaired by women and composed of a large number of lawmakers from suburban and urban districts. MacManus said she doubts a bill as restrictive as Alabama’s would ever pass in Florida.
While Florida is controlled by Republicans, polls show that Floridians aren’t as conservative on social issues as other southern states that are in the Bible Belt, said Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida.
“It clearly was not a high priority for a number of Republicans, particularly in the Senate,” he said.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, supports requiring parental consent for abortions and would “evaluate” a fetal heartbeat bill next session, said Katie Betta, a spokeswoman.
About 56 percent of Floridians think abortion should be legal in most if not all cases, a higher percentage than other Southeastern states, according to a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center.
A bill requiring minors to obtain parental consent to have an abortion advanced the farthest in the Legislature this session. The state Supreme Court struck down a similar law 30 years ago as unconstitutional.
Florida voters backed a constitutional amendment in 2004 that required parents to be notified if their children seek an abortion.
Even though the fetal heartbeat bill did not advance, it sparked boisterous protests in the Capitol. As supporters of the bill conducted a news conference, protesters held signs that read, “This bill oppresses women.”
Democrats are vowing to continue fighting efforts to bar access to abortions. Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, issued a statement blasting Alabama for “waging a war on women.” Book, a childhood victim of sexual abuse, wants to amend Florida’s Constitution to require that at least 50 percent of representatives voting be female for any bill restricting abortion access.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he thinks if conservative courts uphold abortion laws passed in other states that will boost efforts to impose new restrictions in Florida.
“Our pro-life community is frustrated,” said Baxley, who sponsored the heartbeat bill in the Senate. “It is discouraging when we are under Republican leadership, and we still can’t get a policy shift here.”
Protesters demonstrate at the Florida Capitol against a bill that would have banned most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.