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Florida lawmakers again debating when life begins

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The question of when human life begins is a debate returning to the state Capitol.

Legislation prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which is usually around six weeks, could be a test case for newly appointed justices on the Florida Supreme Court.

In 1989, Florida’s Supreme Court upheld a teenager's right to her own body, saying a fetus was a specialized set of cells.

It remains law today, but now state lawmakers are trying to test the court and its three newly appointed members with a bill prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“When there’s a heartbeat, there is life. It’s always been the symbol of the presence of life,” said Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Asked if six weeks was enough time for a woman to act if she wanted an abortion, the sponsor suggested she might have to face the consequences.

“There was an intentional act, a decision made,” Baxley said.

Pro-choice activists gathered quickly to protest a news conference held by bill sponsors Thursday.

“At that point of a woman’s pregnancy, she might not even know that she is pregnant yet,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

House Sponsor Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, believes, if passed, the legislation will be challenged before the Supreme Court of Florida. 

“I believe that they’ll make a decision at that time that I hope will celebrate life,” Hill said.

Despite the new conservative-leaning members of the court, pro-choice activists say that the legislation being proposed is unconstitutional, and they think the court will agree.

“Absolutely there is concern, but at the end of the day, Florida’s state constitution continues to have a strong right to privacy that I know Floridians across this state support,” Eskamani said.

So far, the fetal heartbeat has not received a hearing, but contentious legislation is often saved for late in the session, which ends in May.

A second bill raising concerns for pro-choice activists would require parents to provide consent for a minor's abortion. 

Current law only requires parents to be notified.