A Florida lawmaker who sponsored a bill banning abortion in the state after 15 weeks pregnant delivered a closing speech minutes before midnight on Wednesday, lambasting abortion advocates who rally behind a particular phrase , joking that lawmakers could have bet how many times they would hear it in the previous five hours of debate.
But before she could finish, chants erupted from the Florida House gallery — perhaps predictably — touting the familiar phrase: “My body, my choice.”
After a brief pause, the vote held, with twice as many lawmakers in favor as against. Flippant mockery on one side, loud outburst on the other – both signaled a shifting terrain that presents new boldness in opposing access to abortion and heightened urgency to protect it, with a series of provocative challenges that are winning approval in states even before an impending Supreme Court ruling on whether these laws violate the US Constitution.
In Florida and beyond, states appear to be bracing for a new abortion frontier, recklessly introducing restrictions and flouting current precedent pending the High Court’s ruling expected this summer. The Florida bill, which advanced just days after the Arizona Senate and West Virginia The House of Delegates passed bills with nearly identical 15-week limitations, part of the latest moves by states to limit access to the process.
This week’s developments mark a critical turning point, as activists assess the impact of new restrictions on three states where access to abortion is already under threat.
“This is an important week for abortion rights and access because you see three states moving in a direction that would hurt people’s access to care, would significantly hurt people’s access to care” said Elizabeth Nash, senior policy associate for state issues at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute.
Although abortion bans like those seen in these three states are nothing new – and are not even guaranteed to pass forever – the fervor and pace with which they are being pursued reflect a bold confidence that the landscape is on the point to change. According to Nash, this change reflects what is happening at the Supreme Court.
The judges consider a case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The bills in the three states mirror the one passed in Mississippi in 2018.
The Mississippi rule is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the seemingly untouchable juggernaut of constitutional law. Long the white whale of conservative activism, the landmark 1973 ruling affirmed the right to an abortion before fetal viability – generally understood by experts to mean 24 weeks pregnant. Abortion bans in recent years have been aimed in part to set up lawsuits that could nullify or limit Roe’s reach. But after the newly conservative supermajority high court heard from Dobbs, the recent moves in the tri-state instead appear to be preparing the justices to change the precedent set nearly 50 years ago, likely upholding the Mississippi ban by allowing states to set earlier limits on abortion. or by nullifying Roe altogether.
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“I think what we’re seeing in those three states, Arizona, Florida, and West Virginia, is that they’re also planning for the court to uphold at least a 15-week abortion ban,” Nash said. “So for them it’s a floor – it’s sort of the bare minimum that they expect.”
And the three states are not alone. Republican state lawmakers have capitalized on this abortion dynamic in recent months.
At a Florida House subcommittee meeting last month, Republican State Rep. Erin Grall, one of the state bill’s sponsors, was blunt about the opportunity offered by the present moment, saying she believes “we have a unique opportunity in the fact that the Supreme Court is looking at 15 weeks right now.
When asked if the bill was unconstitutional, Grall simply replied, “The court sometimes gets it wrong.”
While Republicans clamor to introduce legislation in direct opposition to the current precedent, Democratic state lawmakers have vehemently opposed it, saying the restrictions would disproportionately impact marginalized communities, while people more affluent would retain the ability to have abortions out of state.
Florida Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani said ahead of the vote that the bill was “unpopular”, “dangerous” and punished people “for being poor”.
“Because ultimately abortion bans impact all types of people, but the people who are most affected are the people who don’t have the money to go to a state like Carolina. du Nord, which would be the closest option for women looking to terminate a pregnancy after 15 weeks,” she said.
The Sunshine State has been a haven for abortion access in the region, with relatively accessible abortion services up to 24 weeks gestation statewide for Floridians and residents of neighboring states who have imposed restrictions and closed abortion clinics in recent years. But all that could change if the bill is signed into law, effective as early as July.
The Florida bill, along with the Arizona and West Virginia bill, will now go to the other Republican-controlled house and, if passed, to Republican state governors, who have all expressed their support for abortion restrictions. None of the bills provide exceptions for rape or incest.
“(These three states) expect the court to uphold at least a 15-week abortion ban…that’s kind of the bare minimum that they expect.”
Arizona and West Virginia are among nine states with pre-Roe abortion bans already in place that would go into effect if the landmark ruling is overturned this summer. Although a similar ban does not currently exist in Florida, a recent To analyse from the Guttmacher Institute has determined that the state is likely to ban abortion altogether without federal protections in place.
If Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, at least 21 states would likely attempt to ban abortion based on existing laws and constitutional amendments, according to the analysis. Five other states, including Florida, are considered likely to ban abortion, based on “political makeup, history and other indicators – such as recent actions to limit access to abortion,” according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, Americans’ satisfaction with the current state of abortion policies in the United States – whether they consider them too strict or not strict enough – is at its lowest level in two decades of 24 %, according to a Gallup survey released last month. Notably, the share of Americans who are dissatisfied because they think the laws are too strict peaks at 30%.
This dissatisfaction with the strictness of abortion laws in the United States seems to be part of a larger trend following the implementation of stricter laws in recent years and the addition of more conservative Supreme Court justices. to the judiciary. While far more Americans were unhappy with lax abortion laws between 2001 and 2017, the gap narrowed after former President Donald Trump appointed his first Supreme Court justice in 2018.
Today, an 8-point gap exists between the percentage who want stricter or more lax abortion laws amid a Texas law effectively banning the majority of abortions in the second-most state. populous country and as it has withstood criticism from the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court.
But when it comes to unseating Roe, nearly a 2-to-1 margin of Americans are in opposition, according to a Gallup poll.
Nonetheless, Judge Brett Kavanaugh during the December hearing of the Mississippi case questioned why the issue – which he called “the most contentious social debate in American life” – should not be left to the states.
“There will be different responses in Mississippi, New York, different responses in Alabama than in California, because those are two different interests at stake and people in those states might value those interests a little differently,” a- he declared.
Florida Republican State Rep. Cord Byrd quoted Kavanaugh’s question, asking, “Isn’t that really the debate we’re having tonight in this house?” Where will Florida decide what the interest is at stake?
Democratic State Rep. Joseph Geller pushed back against the idea that states might have different rules when it comes to “fundamental constitutional rights.”
“That was the kind of argument we had when this country was divided into free states and slave states,” Geller said. “And as a country, we have determined that these fundamental constitutional rights belong to the people – not to fractions of people, but to the people – no matter where they live and no matter what laws that state passes.”
But by the summer, after the Supreme Court issues a ruling likely to dictate a post-Roe v. Wade, this patchwork of solutions that is beginning to emerge in states from Arizona to West Virginia to Florida could soon become a reality.