The Florida State Legislature debated on Tuesday a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The legislation was introduced this week and it faces an easy path to approval as both houses of the state legislature are dominated by Republicans. If adopted, the bill would become the latest front in the political fight over abortion, as Florida would follow other states like Mississippi in banning abortion at 15 weeks.
The proposed legislation was introduced just a few weeks after the Supreme Court held oral arguments over the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which evaluates the constitutionality of the Mississippi fetal heartbeat bill, which was temporarily stopped by a lower federal court in 2019 could potentially become a new landmark decision over abortion as the legal team defending the Mississippi ban have asked the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion a constitutional right in 1973, and the Case v. Planned Parenthood decision of 1992, which reaffirmed Roe and set fetal viability as a standard for abortions.
If Roe is overturned by the Supreme Court, this would not make abortion illegal across the land but it would leave its legality in the hands of the states. The Mississippi case is not the only contentious issue in the debate over abortion, as Texas passed a similar law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks and that allows private citizens to sue those who perform abortions directly and even collect $10,000 per successful lawsuit.
Florida Abortion Fetal Heartbeat law draws from the Mississippi and Texas abortion bans
The bill called HB 167 in the House, “Requires physician to conduct test for, & inform woman seeking abortion of, presence of detectable fetal heartbeat; prohibits physician from performing or inducing abortion if fetal heartbeat is detected or if physician fails to conduct test to detect fetal heartbeat,” according to the summary in the official website of the Florida House of Representatives.
The 40-page bill does provide one exception to the ban, allowing doctors to perform an abortion after a heartbeat had been detected only if “a physician believes a medical emergency exists” that would prevent them to comply with the bill. Any doctor who wants to perform an abortion to preserve the mother’s health would have to certify in writing: the specific medical condition the abortion will address, and the medical rationale for the physician’s assessment that the abortion is necessary.
The Florida law also draws inspiration from the Texas bill as it allows private citizens to sue people who either conduct an abortion in violation of the law or are knowingly aiding or abetting the performance of abortions in violation of this law. Just like the Texas abortion ban, the Florida bill would grant at least $10,000 per successful lawsuit.
Although the bill was only introduced this week, it has very good chances of becoming law. Not only do Republicans have comfortable majorities in both houses of the state legislature but also Governor Ron DeSantis has signaled his potential support to it. In a statement to El American, the governor’s press secretary Christina Pushaw said that the governor is “likely to support the legislation which modeled on what Mississippi has done.”
When asked if the Governor would support a law that would ban abortions earlier than 15 weeks (like the Texas law does) Pushaw said that as a practicing catholic DeSantis is “pro-life/anti-abortion on principle (…) But we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and the 15-week law would be a big step in the right direction.”