Abortion restriction bill passes Florida House subcommittee

A bill restricting all abortions after 15 weeks of gestation passed the Florida House Professions and Public Health Subcommittee by a 12-6 vote on Jan. 19. This would reduce the current window under Florida statutes for a pregnant person to receive an abortion, which is 24 weeks or until the third trimester begins. 

The highly conscientious bill drew opposition from House Democrats and public testimony from over 80 Florida community members.

 

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House Bill 5, titled “Reducing Infant and Fetal Mortality” was co-introduced by Reps. Erin Grall (R – Indian River) and Jenna Persons-Mulicka (R – Lee). The multi-pronged bill would also include current or future pregnant women in the Statewide Tobacco Education and Use Prevention Program to reduce the effects of smoking exposure on a child’s health. The bill would also require the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to create fetal and infant mortality review committees (FIMR) to inform future policy recommendations that would address mortality rates. The bill would appropriate $260,000 in general funds for these operations. 

In her closing statement, Grall cited statistics found in the staff analysis of the bill, which stated 209,645 live births occurred in Florida in 2020, according to data from DOH. In the same year, 72,073 abortions occurred. 

“We killed over 25% of Florida’s children in 2020,” she said. “That is an atrocity.” 

Several committee members, including Reps. Anna Eskamani (D – Orange), Michele Rayner (D – Hillsborough), and Kelly Skidmore (D – Palm Beach), raised concerns over the lack of exceptions in the bill, particularly for victims of rape, incest, or human trafficking. The only exception for a late-term abortion is if there is a “fatal fetal abnormality,” which also requires a dual-physician approval. 

In October, the committee heard from experts on existing maternal health disparities in Florida, and the importance for equitable, community-based access to care. Rayner raised concerns with the potential for H.B. 5 to further disadvantage people of color and other underserved communities.

“When we talk about maternal health, it is really interesting to me that it seems the only time we are concerned about children, especially Black babies, is when we have a discussion about abortion.”

Eskamani, on behalf of the Democratic Caucus, proposed the sole amendment to H.B. 5. The amendment would strike the abortion ban while retaining the smoking cessation and FIMR programs. 

“We want to stand together to support the organizations like Healthy Start, who are doing fantastic work in our state,” she said, “without stripping away the freedom and constitutional rights of women around this state.”  

The amendment ultimately failed in a 6-10 vote. Organizations who provided public testimony in support for H.B. 5 include Florida Voice for the Unborn, the Florida Family Policy Council, and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. Organizations who opposed H.B. 5 include American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and several community members who received abortions.   

Aside from the Professions and Public Health Subcommittee, H.B. 5 will undergo hearings in the House Health Care Appropriation Subcommittee and the House Health and Human Services Committee.