Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a prominent figure in the Republican Party who is expected to run for president in 2024, has signed into law a six-week abortion ban, making the southern state the latest to enact severe restrictions on the procedure in the United States.
The state’s Republican-led House of Representatives approved the ban by a vote of 70 to 40 on Thursday, allowing the bill to proceed to the governor’s desk.
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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. Critics argue that most patients do not realise they are pregnant so soon after conception, rendering the latest bill a near-total ban.
In the wake of its passage, the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden issued a statement opposing what it called an “extreme and dangerous new abortion ban”.
“The ban flies in the face of fundamental freedoms and is out of step with the views of the vast majority of the people of Florida and of all the United States,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote in a statement.
She added 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. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health Policy Research nonprofit found that, in 2020, an estimated 74,868 legal abortions were performed in Florida, the most of any state.
The next highest totals were in New York and Texas. Florida has the third-highest state population in the US, recently surpassing New York.
Vice President Kamala Harris echoed Jean-Pierre’s remarks on Twitter, writing: “Let’s be clear: This law would deny women across Florida access to basic health care.”
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”.
“This is an incredibly sad and painful day for our state but we will not stop or be deterred in the fight for reproductive justice and personal freedom,” she wrote on Twitter.
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 — with Democrats supporting access and Republicans in favour of greater restrictions — 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.