TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill regarding abortion in Florida titled the “Florida Heartbeat Act” was filed Wednesday morning by Florida Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Republican lawmaker from Deltona, WPLG-TV first reported.
The bill, similar to one signed into law in Texas, would ban most abortions in the state and would allow lawsuits against doctors who violate it.
The bill requires a physician to conduct a test for, and inform a woman seeking an abortion of, the presence of a detectable fetal heartbeat. It also prohibits physicians from performing or inducing abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, or, if a physician fails to conduct a test to detect a fetal heartbeat.
The bill also provides exceptions for rape, incest, domestic violence, human trafficking or a condition that’s threatening to the mother. However, those seeking an abortion due to said exceptions require documentation, such as a restraining order, medical record, or court order, to legally do so.
The bill also authorizes a private civil cause of action for certain violations and provides for civil remedies and damages. The bill calls for $10,000 civil awards per abortion for the doctor who performs the procedure or any defendants that “aided or abetted” the procedure. People would have six years to file a lawsuit after an illegal abortion is performed.
The bill, which is filed for consideration during the legislative session that will start in January, mirrors a new Texas law that bans almost all abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, recently refused to block the Texas law from taking effect, though that was not a final ruling on whether the law is constitutional.
The act states, “... a fetal heartbeat is a key medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth, and cardiac activity begins at a biologically identifiable moment in time, normally when the fetal heart is formed in the gestational sac ... the State of Florida has a compelling interest from the outset of a woman’s pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the unborn child, and in order to make an informed choice about whether to continue her pregnancy, the pregnant woman has a compelling interest in knowing the likelihood of her unborn child surviving to full-term birth based upon the presence of cardiac activity.”
The bill also altered the definition of “abortion” in the state.
According to the act, “abortion” means the termination of human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead unborn child.
Previously, the definition concluded with “to remove a dead fetus” rather than “to remove a dead unborn child.” This is a deliberate change noted throughout the act. “Unborn child” has replaced the term “dead fetus.”
The legislation immediately met with opposition from Democrats who want to preserve the right to legal abortions. Barnaby’s office said he wasn’t ready to comment on it.
“This bill is dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional. The hypocrisy of this attempt by Governor (Ron) DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature to take away our rights while at the same time preaching ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to wearing masks is absolutely disgusting,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement. Fried is a Democratic candidate to challenge DeSantis next year.
House Minority Co-leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, told The News Service of Florida that Democrats have been bracing for such an abortion bill to be filed.
“None of us are shocked, surprised or anything like that. We knew it would be here. Look, we have every intention of putting up a severe, very strong fight whenever that bill comes to the floor,” Jenne said.
However, Jenne acknowledged that in the Republican-dominated Legislature, it will be difficult for Democrats to block the proposal.
“Chances are that it is probably going to be law. We need to do everything we can to either water it down or make it so it is constitutionally unviable,” Jenne said.
While similar bills have died in the Florida Legislature in past sessions, the debate has heated up since the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to block the Texas law that bans abortion when a so-called “fetal heartbeat” is detected, or about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women realize they are expecting.
Medical experts say the cardiac activity is not an actual heartbeat but rather an initial flutter of electric activity within cells in an embryo. They say the heart doesn’t begin to form until the fetus is at least nine weeks old, and they decry efforts to promote abortion bans by relying on medical inaccuracies.
After the Supreme Court decision earlier this month, GOP leadership began looking at what could be done in Florida. DeSantis said he thought the law was interesting and Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson expressed support for a similar law.
GOP House Speaker House Speaker Chris Sprowls said he’d like to see more abortion restrictions, but said any legislation has to be crafted to not only withstand federal law, but also the state’s constitution.
“I have always fought for unborn babies and their right to life, and the Florida House of Representatives has been a national leader in developing pro-life legislation,” Sprowls said through a spokesperson. “Our laws have to be strong enough to jump through multiple levels of judicial scrutiny. We look forward to bringing to the Floor a bill that saves every unborn life possible.”
DeSantis’ office said the legislation will be reviewed.
“Governor DeSantis is pro-life. The Governor’s office is aware that the bill was filed today and like all legislation, we will be monitoring it as it moves through the legislative process in the coming months,” DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in an email.
After Texas’ law went into effect, Republican lawmakers in Florida and other states said they would consider introducing bills using the Texas law as a model, hoping it provides a pathway to enacting the kind of abortion crackdown they have sought for years. Those states include Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“This gross excuse of a bill attacks women and birthing people who are seeking an abortion before they even know they are pregnant,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a statement. “Extreme attacks on reproductive health are not about policy, it is about control, shame, and will negatively impact communities who already experience barriers to accessing care.”
If voted into law, the bill goes into effect on July 1, 2022.