Florida six-week abortion bill passes first test in the House, ends with tears and anger
A contentious six-week abortion ban in Florida made it through its first committee hearing early on Thursday, in a party-line vote of 13-5, which came after about more than 150 testimonies from people who traveled to the Capitol. The meeting ended with heartache.
Abortion rights advocates, medical personnel and other citizens stepped in and out of the committee room in a revolving door of emotion, consoling one another.
The committee room was composed of advocates from both sides, though largely with women who shared their most personal testaments — some for the first time. One woman directly addressed the lawmakers, the men then the women, as some idly sat with heads hung down and attention spans short.
Three amendments were proposed by House Democrats, including one to remove the requirement of a second physician sign-off — all of them failed. In closing arguments, the Democrats conceded to not being able to change their Republican colleagues’ minds but pleaded that they consider amendments moving forward.
Currently, Florida has a 15-week abortion ban signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, but the 2023 Legislature is pursuing the six-week measure.
To pass a six-week abortion ban, lawmakers would have to undergo the full legislative process. This process requires approval from the full House and Senate – before Gov. Ron DeSantis gets the final say.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 300, will first be heard by the Senate Health Policy committee on Monday.
Many people who came to the state capital expressed concerns about the bill’s impacts on marginalized individuals’ access to healthcare in rural communities. From abortions to regular wellness check-ups, the consensus is uniform: there aren’t enough healthcare providers in rural and metropolitan areas – let alone enough to satisfy the bill’s requirements.
Miriam Berniac, a Big Bend midwife who served a decade on the statewide Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee, said the bill would devastate and murder entire families.
“Banning abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, which is only two weeks post-conception, puts girls and women at significant personal and community risks,” she said. She concluded by inviting the lawmakers to join her in her daily work “to learn about the true reality of being poor and pregnant in 21st-century America.”
A women from Fort Myers who came to testify and gave her name as Caitlin, cried at the podium. “This abortion ban is insane,” she said.
Alexandra Monaco, obstetrics and gynecology doctor, told the lawmakers and the audience that “people are scared, patients are scared, families are scared, doctors are scared.”
“HB 7, if passed, would be devastating to my patients,” she added.
Andrew Shirvell, executive director of the Florida Voice of the Unborn, said that he supported all sections of the bill except the one that would require an amendment: That “all unborn children are legally protected from the moment of conception, without exception.”
After about two hours, the crowd began singing “The Hanging Tree” in the committee room after the vote was announced. Then the audience moved outside of the committee room and continued to sing.
Democratic lawmakers responded following the meeting.
House Democratic Caucus Leader Fentrice Driskell said: “Women in Florida do not need Tallahassee politicians making these incredibly private and personal health care decisions for them, suppressing their stories and silencing their voices. The choice to seek an abortion should be between a woman and her doctor, with support from her friends and family. This ban will trap thousands of women in unwanted or dangerous pregnancies, putting their lives and futures at risk. It is unpopular, extremist, and wrong, and effectively band access to critical health care when a pregnant woman may need it most.”
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, representing part of Broward County, added, “It was heartbreaking to hear the testimony of women from across Florida who came to Tallahassee to demand their government not strip them of their rights and autonomy. A six-week ban is de-facto an all-out ban because many won’t even know they’re pregnant until it’s too late. This extreme and intrusive government interference is the antithesis of freedom.”