Florida lawmakers didn’t enact any abortion restrictions in their annual legislative session that ended May 4. But the state is one of the outliers in the South.
Florida contrasts with a growing national trend of states imposing strict limits on a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports reproductive rights. A total of 27 abortion restrictions (in various forms) have been enacted in a dozen states so far in 2019, the report shows. Louisiana became the latest on Thursday, enacting a ban at six weeks of gestation, “before many people even know that they are pregnant,” Guttmacher says.
Louisiana joined Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi – which passed a law that forbids a woman to terminate her pregnancy when she is only six weeks pregnant. Alabama enacted “a near-total’ abortion ban, while Missouri has a ban on women terminating their pregnancies after eight weeks.
None of the new laws are in effect yet, either because they have a later enactment date or they are being challenged in court, the report shows.
This is a year “when anti-abortion politicians make clear that their ultimate agenda is banning abortion outright, at any stage in pregnancy and for any reason,” Guttmacher says.
It contrasts with prior years when abortion opponents sought more incremental or administrative measures to undermine access to the medical procedure but didn’t seek to directly ban it, the report says.
“Now, abortion opponents have dropped all pretenses. With a conservative U.S. Supreme Court poised to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade, radical and expansive abortion bans are being enacted as part of a long-term strategy to advance these cases to the Supreme Court,” Guttmacher says.
In Florida, the House voted for a bill to require teenage girls to get parental consent before having an abortion. But the measure never advanced to the Senate floor.
Other measures, including one that would prevent a woman from terminating her pregnancy after 20 weeks, as well as a so-called “heartbeat” bill – which would prevent a woman from terminating her pregnancy if a physician can detect a heartbeat – were filed but never advanced in either legislative chamber.
Nonetheless, a significant threat to reproductive rights looms in Florida.
A Florida woman’s reproductive rights are not only protected by the federal Roe v. Wade decision, but they are also protected by the state’s unique privacy clause in its Constitution. Prior Florida court decisions have used the privacy clause to block abortion restrictions. In 2015, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. It was struck down in a court challenge, with a trial judge ruling that it violated women’s privacy rights under the state Constitution. But the case was appealed. In late March, a state appellate court heard arguments in that case.
The state is trying to get the trial court’s decision overturned, which would allow the 24-hour waiting period to become law. The pending decision is now in the hands of the 1st District Court of Appeal, a Tallahassee-based tribunal populated by conservative judges appointed by former Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
If the court rules that a woman’s reproductive rights are not protected by the privacy clause, it could lead to more abortion restrictions in Florida.
It could also provide a test case for Florida’s Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices. Gov. Ron DeSantis cemented the court’s ideological shift to the right with the appointment of three new justices to the seven-member court in January.