In Florida, the backlash to an anti-abortion bill nearly identical to the Texas six-week abortion measure has been swift and strong. State House and Senate Democrats continue to voice sharp criticism of the proposal, and in early October, thousands of pro-choice protesters took to the streets in Orlando, Miami, Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, and other cities and towns to protest the bill.
Florida A&M University student Noella Williams attended a Planned Parenthood rally at the Florida Capitol complex in Tallahassee. Williams is a member of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at FAMU, and she understands how the bill, H.B. 167, will specifically harm women of color, trans people, and incarcerated women. Personally, Im scared, says Williams, who is African American. I have a close friend of mine who just recently had to have an abortion and [in the future it] could be something that is not able to happen.
Many of the people I spoke with shared similar reactions to the bill: scared and sad, yet ultimately, unsurprised. As the GOP is embracing increasingly extreme anti-abortion legislation and testing the limits of the conservative-majority Supreme Court, its not shocking that a six-week ban would be introduced in Florida, where Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the governors office. In 2021, at least 90 laws restricting abortion procedures passed across the country, and in the past few years Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio have all passed so-called heartbeat bills that allow abortions up to the time a fetal heartbeat is detectedbut federal courts have blocked these laws.
Floridians have good reason to be worried about abortion rights, even if its unlikely that this specific bill will garner widespread GOP support.
Though Floridas abortion laws may be less restrictive than those of neighboring states, it is not easy to find a provider to perform the procedure. Currently, only 17 out of 67 counties in Florida have at least one abortion clinic. Some Floridians, mainly those living in the Panhandle, have to travel hundreds of miles to receive an abortion.
Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Florida legislature has passed about two dozen abortion restrictions, including a mandatory ultrasound, state-directed counseling, parental consent for minors, as well as prohibitions on public funding of abortion except in cases involving life endangerment, rape, and incest. Clinics that offer abortions after the first trimester are subject to additional restrictions that regulate building dimensions down to the size of bathrooms and width of hallways. Commonly referred to as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws, these regulations establish medically unnecessary barriers to building and operating abortion clinics under the guise of patient safety.
Abortion clinics in Florida and across the country are facing an uptick in harassment following the passage of the Texas abortion bana common side effect of anti-abortion legislation being passed, says Melissa Fowler, the chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation (NAF), the professional association of abortion providers. NAF reported that anti-abortion protesters recorded patients and car license plates at clinics in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Michigan clinics have received bomb threats, and clinics in several other states have reported threatening phone calls and social media posts.
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It is not entirely clear whether Florida Republicans will rally behind a Texas-style ban or introduce a 15-week ban. (Mississippis 15-week ban is now pending before the Supreme Court.) Some key players in the Florida GOP have already indicated their opposition to H.B. 167. Both Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Senate President Wilton Simpson expressed concern over the $10,000 bounty that the bill promises to private citizens who successfully file suit against people who assist women who seek abortions.
Trying to pass a potentially incendiary piece of legislation will force lawmakers to expend considerable amounts of political capital that will distract them from other legislative priorities and may end up alienating many Florida voters. Six-week bans are certainly unpopular. An October 4 Marist Poll/NPR/PBS NewsHour poll found that, nationwide, 59 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of Democrats, and 53 percent of independents oppose heartbeat bills.
In the past, even anti-abortion lawmakers have made exceptions for rape and incest when crafting legislation. But H.B. 167, like the Texas ban, does not. Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D-Boca Raton) says the extreme measure is a nonstarter. She predicts that another, less restrictive bill is going to be introduced and that H.B. 167 is just a smokescreen for whats really coming.
Floridians have good reason to be worried about abortion rights, even if its unlikely that this specific bill will garner widespread GOP support. While Republicans have steered Florida politics since 1999, the Florida Supreme Court now has a conservative majority after DeSantis appointed three new justices. A partisan judiciary may embolden lawmakers to introduce more extreme anti-abortion legislation, says Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University College of Law.
Joe Saunders, the senior political director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Florida, is concerned with the mounting extremism of GOP abortion politics. Hes been a part of the Florida political scene for 20 years and can remember a time when state Republicans werent such hard-liners on the issue of abortion. But today, the right-wing lawmakers are firmly in control. This is the legislature defined by a politics of purity tests and loyalty oaths, he remarks.
According to Saunders, the possibilities for compromise are quickly evaporating. He points to the passage of S.B. 1028 last April, which banned transgender girls from participating on womens school, club, intramural, and intercollegiate sports teams. Saunders had hoped that Equality Floridas ongoing relationships with moderate Republicans might stop the legislation from advancing. Instead, the bill garnered unanimous Republican support in the House and all but one GOP vote in the Senate.
As Republicans consider the political costs of whether they should move to erase decades of abortion case law, Floridians face affordable-housing shortages, high day care costs, and climate change threats. Legislators cant get out of their own way, says Skidmore. If they would just focus more on the babies that were actually born and hungry and needy and abandoned, they could do a whole lot more good.