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Top One Magazine

Florida lawmakers, and DeSantis, charge ahead on 6-week abortion ban

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Abortion rights supporters may be cheering this week’s victory in Wisconsin, but Ron DeSantis didn’t get the memo. Here in Florida, he and GOP lawmakers are still pushing — as early as next week — to approve a far-reaching ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner is even trying to sell the legislative proposal as a “compromise” because there are some Republicans who want an all-out ban.

“When a child has a heartbeat, I think that’s when people say, ‘wait a minute, this is something different,’” Renner said Tuesday, noting he believes life begins at conception.

To outsiders anticipating a DeSantis run for president, the governor’s support for the proposal may seem politically risky, especially after Tuesday’s Supreme Court election in Wisconsin, where the winning candidate ran on abortion rights. But it’s a direction that DeSantis — a likely Republican presidential contender — has been moving in for years, even before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

DeSantis signaled support for such a law during his first race for governor, some five years ago. It’s a stance that could earn him support from abortion opponents in key presidential primaries, answering GOP concerns that Florida’s more limited 15-week restrictions allowed the state to become an abortion sanctuary in the Southeast.

“It makes it clear that DeSantis is solidly pro-life, and he’s trying to move the ball for the protection of the unborn and he can be trusted to do that in the future,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council and a long-standing proponent of abortion restrictions.

The Florida Senate approved legislation Monday that would impose the six-week ban, and the state House is preparing to act next. When legislators do pass the proposal — which has exceptions up to 15 weeks for victims of rape, incest and human trafficking — it will be just one of many recent policy victories for DeSantis, whose Legislature has been rapidly sending him bills that achieve key conservative priorities.

The governor is sure to plug the busy Tallahassee session if and when he jumps in the 2024 race, something he may not do until at least June.

“If he decides to run, he wants to have the most robust cultural and policy conservative list of accomplishments,” said a top Republican consultant in Tallahassee, who was granted anonymity to talk freely about DeSantis. “This makes him impervious to hits from the right.”

Many critics of the bill say the measure would outlaw most abortions in the state since pregnancy often goes undetected for six weeks or more.

Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, tried to make abortion rights a centerpiece of her unsuccessful run for governor. She contends that, if adopted, the measure could trigger an enormous backlash in the Sunshine State.

“Democrats did not show up in November of 2022. This is on us,” said Fried, who was arrested this week after protesting against the legislation outside of Tallahassee City Hall. “We are going to show up and we are going to have a message — the reckoning will come.”

The six-week ban is too much for even some Florida Republicans.

When the bill passed by the Senate earlier this week, it drew “no” votes from two GOP legislators, both of whom flipped Democratic-held districts that went for President Joe Biden in 2020. Republican Sen. Rick Scott — who signed abortion restrictions into law when he was governor — said in an television interview last month that he supported existing Florida law on abortion.

“I think where most people are is reasonable restrictions,” Scott told Telemundo. “And probably most people are about 15 weeks with all the exceptions.”

Florida’s current 15-week ban was enacted just last year in anticipation of the repeal of Roe. The measure has been challenged to the Florida Supreme Court on grounds that it violates an explicit right to privacy enshrined in the state constitution — a clause that the court has used to strike down previous abortion restrictions passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The court — which now consists primarily of justices appointed by DeSantis — isn’t expected to rule until later this year. The pending bill includes a clause that says the six-week ban will not take effect until 30 days after the court rules.

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, DeSantis said he supported additional “pro-life” restrictions but he did not spell them out on the campaign trail. Late last year, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo suggested she favored a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, but by early March, she joined with Renner in backing the bill after six weeks. DeSantis then quickly endorsed it.

“There was no doubt in my mind,” Stemberger said. “He had no reason to.”

There is an “unusual political alignment” in Florida when it comes to abortion restrictions, Stemberger said.

“I think for the first time in a long time we have somewhat of a trifecta of leadership in support of the same thing,” he said.

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