“We are here today to protect life,” DeSantis said at the bill-signing event Thursday. “We are here today to defend those who cannot defend themselves.”
The controversial measure, which passed the state’s House and Senate earlier this year and does not include exceptions for rape or incest, is only the latest action in a burgeoning anti-abortion movement in Republican state legislatures set against the backdrop of an imminent Supreme Court decision that could shift power on the issue from the federal government to the states.
The justices are mulling a case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which takes on a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Mississippi rule is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the seemingly untouchable behemoth of constitutional law. Long the white whale of conservative activism, the landmark 1973 decision affirmed a right to an abortion before fetal viability – generally understood by experts to mean 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion bans in recent years have aimed in part to set up court cases that could overturn or limit the scope of Roe. But after the newly conservative supermajority high court heard Dobbs, recent moves in states, including Florida, instead look to be preparing for the justices to alter the precedent established nearly 50 years ago, likely upholding the Mississippi ban by allowing states to set earlier limits on abortion or by overruling Roe altogether.
Unlike Mississippi, though, the Sunshine State has been a beacon for abortion access in the region, with relatively accessible abortion services up to fetal viability throughout the state for Floridians and residents of neighboring states that have imposed restrictions and shut down abortion clinics in recent years. But that could all change now that the bill has been signed into law, effective July 1.
Florida, at present, is much friendlier to abortion than Mississippi, which has only one abortion clinic and offers the procedure up to 18 weeks of pregnancy. Florida, by contrast, has some 65 abortion clinics throughout the state and offers the service up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
And Florida isn’t alone. Arizona and Kentucky recently enacted bans on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while West Virginia lawmakers advanced similar legislation.
“In all of these states, care will be impacted,” Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate of state issues at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute says. “And particularly in Florida, where Florida is, among the Southern states, a state that has relatively solid abortion access. It’s a state where not only Floridians rely on abortion care but people come from other states as well to access care.”
Nevertheless, Florida and other states appear to be gearing up for a new abortion frontier, brashly introducing restrictions and flouting current precedent as they await the high court ruling expected this summer. According to Nash, states introducing these 15 week abortion bans are likely anticipating that the high court will at the very least uphold a 15-week ban.
“So for them, this is the floor,” Nash says. “This is sort of the bare minimum they are expecting.”