Florida Heartbeat Law Takes Effect, But Voters Could Upend It

Florida Heartbeat Law Takes Effect, But Voters Could Upend It

An April 1 ruling by Florida’s Supreme Court allows the state’s ban on abortion beyond six weeks to take effect, but the justices also ruled that Florida voters can vote on a proposed constitutional amendment set for this November that would replace the ban, guaranteeing legal abortion up to fetal viability, or around 24 weeks gestation.    

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the six-week abortion ban into law in April 2023, but it was held up until a legal challenge to an earlier 15-week ban, signed by DeSantis in 2022, could be decided. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and several abortion providers had challenged the 15-week ban, which has been in effect, on grounds it violated the Florida constitution’s right to privacy.

The conservative-leaning court ruled, in a 6-1 vote, that the 15-week ban did not violate the state’s right to privacy, while voting 4-3 in a separate ruling that the November ballot measure could go before voters.

“Based on our analysis finding no clear right to abortion embodied within the Privacy Clause [of the Florida constitution], Planned Parenthood cannot overcome the presumption of constitutionality and is unable to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the 15-week ban is unconstitutional,” Justice Jamie Grosshans wrote for the majority.

The state’s lawyers argued that when voters approved the privacy clause in 1980, they had “informational privacy” in mind and not abortion—something the justices agreed with.

“The debate—as framed to the public—overwhelmingly associated the Privacy Clause’s terms with concerns related to government surveillance and disclosure of private information to the public,’” the court wrote. “Pro-life and pro-choice groups did not join in the fray. These groups are not politically bashful—not now, and not in 1980.”

Florida’s six-week ban has the detection of an unborn baby’s heartbeat and ability to feel pain in mind. A fetal heartbeat is typically observable at around six weeks.

Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, 14 states have passed full abortion bans, with some exceptions covering rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. South Carolina and Georgia prohibit abortion if a heartbeat can be detected, similar to the Florida six-week ban.

In a statement, Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America praised the ruling upholding the Florida law, but warned of the damage the proposed constitutional amendment could cause to unborn children and their mothers if voters pass it in November.

“Today’s victory for unborn children who have a heartbeat and can feel pain is in line with the views of the majority of Floridians who want to protect babies and serve mothers and families,” SBA State Policy Director Katie Daniel of Tampa said. “As Florida faces what may be its biggest ballot fight yet, Gov. Ron DeSantis must be at the forefront of protecting Florida from Big Abortion’s attempt to eliminate the rights of unborn children, parents, women, and girls. Gov. DeSantis signed protections for babies who feel pain and have a heartbeat into law and now he must lead in defending those protections.

“We must oppose Prop 4. Not only will this measure bring dangerous late-term abortions back to Florida, but it will allow girls who aren’t old enough to get their ears pierced on their own to get an abortion without a parent’s OK. Those girls and the women who have abortions will be put at risk when this measure eliminates every abortion health regulation on the books.”

Daniel cites a report from Florida’s health care administration agency that shows 25% of Florida’s abortion centers failed inspections in 2022.

“It’s no surprise they want to be completely unregulated to increase their profits at the expense of women, girls and babies,” Daniel said.

Photo via Newscom

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