Pensacola House Republican Mike Hill has filed restrictive anti-abortion legislation that would prohibit a pregnant woman from getting an abortion in Florida if a physician detects a fetal heartbeat. The proposal calls for physicians to conduct an abdominal ultrasound to test for a fetal heartbeat on any woman seeking an abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, it would prohibit the abortion from happening and doctors would face felony charges if they performed the procedure.
A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks – so early that a woman may not even know she is pregnant.
This is the first time a so-called “heartbeat” anti-abortion bill has been proposed in Florida. The law is similar to other bills introduced in Congress and at least ten states over the past decade that are seen as a coordinated challenge to the landmark U.S. law that legalized abortion. None have become laws, either because they didn’t receive sufficient support in their respective state legislatures or because they have been blocked by the courts.
On the campaign trail this summer, newly-elected Governor Ron DeSantis said he would sign such legislation if it came to his desk.
“This is just another attempt by a Florida politician – we’ve seen it before – at criminalizing doctors and interfering in women’s private medical decisions,” said Laura Goodhue, the executive director for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “It’s clearly unconstitutional if they were to pass this bill into law.”
A series of laws that would reduce the availability of abortions in Florida have been passed in recent years by the GOP-led Legislature, but the Florida Supreme Court has blocked nearly all of them.
However, the court may look at such cases in a different light by the time the Florida legislative session begins in the spring. That’s because three liberal-leaning justices on the court stepped down this week after reaching the mandatory retirement age, opening up seats for the Republican governor to fill the court with more conservative justices. He began that process this week by selecting conservative jurist Barbara Logoa to succeed R. Fred Lewis on the bench.
The bill says the penalty for a doctor performing an abortion after detecting a fetal heartbeat would be a third-degree felony, which could carry penalties from two to five years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
The bill does allow for an exception; it says that two physicians must certify in writing that “in reasonable medical judgement,” the termination of the pregnancy is necessary to save the woman’s life or avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a “major bodily function.” If two physicians aren’t available, the bill says that only one physician needs to certify.
“The exceptions for the life and health of a woman are very narrowly defined, so there could be a lot of scenarios where a woman’s health could be at risk, but the doctor, because they could be convicted of a third-degree felony, would be afraid of providing the proper care that they’ve been trained to do,” said Goodhue.
Another abortion-related bill was filed on Thursday by Central Florida Democrat Amy Mercado. It would enact penalties on people who physically threaten women entering abortion clinics. It would also prohibit intentionally damaging, destroying a reproductive health care facility.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion, six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws against intimidating patients entering a clinic or staff who provide reproductive health services. Three of the states prohibit property damage to facilities that provide reproductive health services.