By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – Florida’s Republican-led Senate on Thursday is expected to pass a bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, putting the state one step closer to adopting a gestational limit currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state’s House of Representatives, which also has a Republican majority, approved the measure last month on a party-line vote. Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is expected to sign it after Senate approval.
Enactment of the law would significantly reduce access to late-term abortions for women across the U.S. Southeast, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to end pregnancies in Florida because of stricter abortion laws in surrounding states.
The state currently permits abortions up to 24 weeks without a mandatory waiting period, meaning a woman can terminate her pregnancy the day she arrives at a clinic.
Florida’s measure, which would take effect on July 1, makes exceptions to the 15-week rule only in cases when the mother is at risk of death or “irreversible physical impairment,” or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality.
In a session on Wednesday, lawmakers debated an amendment to the bill that would make exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking, which ultimately failed.
Democratic lawmakers who supported the amendment asked their colleagues to focus on the emotional needs of pregnant victims of sexual assault. “We’re better than this,” state Senator Victor Torres said.
The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Kelli Stargel, defended the bill’s exclusion of an exception for rape. She said she rejected the premise that a “child should be killed because of the circumstances in which it was conceived.”
Republican lawmakers around the country have introduced bills mirroring a 15-week abortion ban enacted by Mississippi and now being weighed by the Supreme Court after lower courts blocked the measure as unconstitutional. Arizona’s Senate and West Virginia’s House passed similar 15-week abortion bans last month.
During oral arguments in December, the Supreme Court indicated its willingness to allow Mississippi’s law to stand. A ruling in Mississippi’s favor would conflict with the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable, typically around 24 weeks.
Besides seeking reinstatement of its abortion law, the state of Mississippi in Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs has asked the high court to overturn Roe altogether.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is expected this spring.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida said a privacy clause in Florida’s constitution that protects against government “intrusion” in residents’ private lives would be grounds for a lawsuit challenging a 15-week abortion ban, even as the Supreme Court has not yet decided on the constitutionality of the restriction.
“Because of the explicit right to privacy in our state constitution, Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs will not dictate what happens with Florida’s cruel 15-week abortion ban,” Kara Gross, ACLU Florida’s legislative director, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)