DeSantis signs law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, with no rape or incest exception

KISSIMMEE — With no exceptions for rape or incest, most abortions in Florida will be banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in Kissimmee on Thursday.

The governor signed the legislation, effective July 1, surrounded by GOP lawmakers and anti-abortion activists in front of a large crowd at Nación de Fe church. A screen behind them read “Florida is Pro-Life.”

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“We are here today to protect life,” the governor told the cheering group. “We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

Florida now has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider a similar measure approved in Mississippi. Abortion-rights activists fear the high court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

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The Florida law allows abortions after 15 weeks only if a fetus is found to have a “fatal fetal abnormality,” which the bill describes as “a terminal condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb and will result in death upon birth or imminently thereafter.”

Two doctors would have to certify that diagnosis. Abortion is currently legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy in Florida.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would challenge the law.

“Personal decisions regarding whether and when to have a child should not be dictated by politicians,” Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “… Nobody should be forced to carry a pregnancy against their will. We will take swift legal action to protect Floridians’ rights and defend against this cruel attack on our bodily autonomy.”

Despite efforts by Democrats to amend the bill during the regular session earlier this year, it does not include exceptions for rape and incest.

During a Senate debate in March, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, defended that decision, saying a fetus is a child that shouldn’t be aborted because of how it was conceived.

“Hopefully in the future, there will be no abortions,” Stargel said Thursday. “… My story was an unexpected pregnancy. As the song says, there is no pregnancy that’s unplanned. God has a plan for every single child.”

State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, echoed Stargel.

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“We all know that once a woman becomes pregnant, two uniquely independent human beings exist,” Grall said.

Democratic Leader Sen. Lauren Book, a survivor of sexual assault, responded to DeSantis on Twitter, writing that “with the stroke of a pen, Governor DeSantis has forced the women of Florida back 50 years by robbing them of the reproductive rights established by our nation’s highest court in Roe vs. Wade.”

Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones of Broward County issued a statement blasting his colleagues and GOP leaders in other states.

“Across the country, extremists in state legislatures are passing abortion bans to put up more barriers for those seeking reproductive healthcare as part of their coordinated assault on millions of already marginalized and vulnerable Americans,’’ he wrote. “We and our allies will continue fighting these harmful bills because ALL of our fundamental rights are on the line.”

The law was signed just days after a state judge approved a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Her ruling came after years of legal wrangling over that law approved in 2015.

The 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated during arguments that it was amenable to upholding a Mississippi law similar to the one DeSantis signed. The case is considered the biggest challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision that stated a ban on abortions violated the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment.

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The standing-room-only crowd at Nación de Fe, the site of a “Latinos for Trump” rally with former Vice President Mike Pence in 2020, cheered when Stargel spoke about the potential of Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Among those who attended were Judy and Ernest Booker of Celebration. They praised DeSantis and the bill.

“It’s history-making,” said Judy Booker. “It’s wonderful.”

Asked if she thought the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, “We pray it does,” she said. “Life is life.”