State Rep. Webster Barnaby, R-Deltona, filed a proposal Wednesday, Sept. 22, that aims to follow Texas’ lead in blocking physicians from performing abortions if there is a “detectable fetal heartbeat.”
The 40-page proposal (HB 167), dubbed the “Florida Heartbeat Act,” would require doctors to test for fetal heartbeats, which can occur six weeks into pregnancy. If heartbeats are detected, doctors “may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion” on pregnant women, under the proposal.
The measure would make an exception if physicians believe that abortions are necessary because of medical emergencies that threaten women’s lives. It would not include exceptions for pregnancies that occur because of rape or incest.
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.
Barnaby said he had “no comments at this time” about his bill when asked Wednesday by reporters in the Capitol.
But House and Senate Democratic leaders quickly condemned the bill, which came as lawmakers were in Tallahassee for committee meetings in advance of the 2022 legislative session.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D- Plantation, called the bill an “outright attack on women” and pledged that Senate Democrats would fight it.
"Women’s fears have been realized with the filing of an extreme Texas-style anti-abortion bill in the Florida House. Rooted in rhetoric instead of science, the bill cruelly strips women of their right to choose what happens to their own bodies,” Book said in a statement.
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.
House and Senate Republican leaders have signaled support for legislation restricting access to abortion during the upcoming session. But they have been less clear about whether Florida would follow Texas’ approach.
Incoming House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, didn’t directly answer reporters’ questions Tuesday about whether he would support an outright ban on abortion. Renner said he wants to move in a “pro-life direction” during session.
“We’re not going to follow Texas’ lead necessarily, we’ll follow our own lead. And again, hear from all sides, have a real deep conversation about the balancing of interests on both sides and land in a place that I hope moves us in a direction towards a pro-life decision,” Renner, who will become speaker after the 2022 elections, told reporters.
However, Renner added that it is “a hard thing, once you get weeks in, to argue that that’s not a human life.”
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, recently called the Texas law “a new approach” and the Supreme Court ruling “encouraging.” Gov. Ron DeSantis this month told reporters that he welcomes legislation to restrict abortions.
In July, DeSantis joined 10 other Republican governors in signing a brief that called for the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and leave abortion issues to states.
--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this story.