Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a prominent Republican figure and potential candidate for the US presidency in 2024, is expected to sign a six-week abortion ban into law. The Republican-led House of Representatives in Florida approved the ban by a vote of 70 to 40 on Thursday, making Florida the latest state to enact severe restrictions on the procedure in the United States. The vote places Florida among an estimated 13 other states that have enacted similar bans on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy or earlier. Florida had previously banned abortion past 15 weeks, but critics argue that most patients do not realize they are pregnant so soon after conception, rendering the latest bill a near-total ban.
In response to the passage of the bill, the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden issued a statement opposing what it called an “extreme and dangerous new abortion ban.” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote that Thursday’s ban would not only affect the 4 million women of reproductive age in Florida but also patients in surrounding states, where similar bans are in effect. Many of them, Jean-Pierre argued, “have previously relied on travel to Florida as an option to access care.” Florida has some of the highest rates of abortions in the US, with an estimated 74,868 legal abortions performed in Florida in 2020, the most of any state.
The decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade last June has made the question of abortion legality up to individual states. The six-week abortion ban passed the Florida Senate on April 3 by a margin of 26-13. The bill includes exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to the parent’s life. But those exceptions do not go far enough, according to Kara Gross, the legislative director at the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The bill’s exceptions are so onerous and impracticable that they are virtually meaningless,” she said in a statement released on Thursday. “In a state that prides itself on being free, this is an unprecedented and unacceptable level of government overreach and intrusion.”
Democratic state Representative Anna Eskamani likewise denounced the bill, saying it was “the most extreme abortion ban in Florida history.” But many in the state’s Republican majority applauded the bill. “There is no greater purpose that drives me than giving every child an opportunity to be born and an opportunity to live,” Republican state Representative Jenna Persons-Mulicka said in a video supporting the abortion ban. Seven state Republican representatives, however, broke rank to vote against the bill.
Polls generally indicate that a majority of Americans support some measure of access to abortion. In 2022, the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of Americans believed abortion should be accessible in most or all cases. While approval of abortion tends to fall along party lines, a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday painted a more nuanced picture. The poll found that 43 percent of self-identified Republicans indicated they were less likely to vote for someone who backed limiting access to abortion. In addition, 51 percent of the Republicans polled agreed with the belief that a recent decision by a Texas judge to limit access to the abortion pill was “politically motivated.”
DeSantis, who has risen to prominence as one of the foremost Republicans in the US, is considered a likely contender for the 2024 presidential race. He had previously shown support for a six-week abortion ban in his state and has argued for his policies in Florida to be a model for the rest of the nation. The Florida Supreme Court is weighing a legal challenge against the previous 15-week ban on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy in the state constitution.