A proposal to prevent abortions after six weeks of pregnancy began moving forward Monday in the Florida Senate.
The Senate Health Policy Committee approved the measure (SB 300), after lengthy and often-emotional testimony and debate.
A House version (HB 7) got an initial approval last week from the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee.
The bills were filed after the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis last year approved a 15-week limit. The U.S. Supreme Court then overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision, effectively leaving regulation of abortion up to states.
Supporters of the six-week limit have described it as a “heartbeat” bill because they say fetal heartbeats can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy. “The point of this bill is that when we know life is present, we have an obligation to protect it,” Senate sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said Monday.
But Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said a six-week limit would effectively ban abortion, as many women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks or would have difficulty quickly accessing abortions.
She said it would threaten the health of women and girls.
“Women’s lives are being put at risk,” Book said. “What are we doing?”
The bills include a major caveat: Seven abortion clinics and a physician filed a constitutional challenge to the 15-week limit.
A key issue in that case is whether the limit violates a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution that has helped protect abortion rights in the state for more than three decades.
Under the House and Senate bills, moving to a six-week limit would be contingent on the Florida Supreme Court effectively upholding the 15-week law.
It is unclear when the court will rule on the challenge, though it probably will be after the legislative session.