TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, giving the Republican a major conservative policy victory as he prepares to launch an expected presidential candidacy.
DeSantis signed the measure late Thursday night in a private ceremony without fanfare, hours after the Republican-dominated statehouse approved the bill.
The law will take effect only if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge that is before the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives.
For DeSantis, the late night, closed door bill signing was a departure from his usual bombastic style and signals the difficult political line he is walking on abortion politics ahead of his anticipated White House run. Restrictions, popular among some conservative GOP primary voters, are seen as potentially damaging among the broader electorate and have led to bruising losses at the ballot box for Republicans in recent months.
“We are proud to support life and family in the state of Florida. I applaud the Legislature for passing the Heartbeat Protection Act that expands pro-life protections and provides additional resources for young mothers and families,” DeSantis said in a statement.
A six-week ban would diminish the Florida's status as destination for the procedure in a region that has severely tightened access after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy, while Georgia forbids the procedure after cardiac activity can be detected, which is around six weeks.
“This ban would prevent four million Florida women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement issued after the bill passed the Legislature. “This ban would also impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in abortion-banning states throughout the South, many of whom have previously relied on travel to Florida as an option to access care.”
The law contains some exceptions, including to save the woman’s life. Abortions for pregnancies involving rape or incest would be allowed until 15 weeks of pregnancy, provided a woman has documentation such as a restraining order or police report. DeSantis has called the rape and incest provisions sensible.
Drugs used in medication-induced abortions — which make up the majority of those provided nationally — could be dispensed only in person or by a physician under the Florida law. Separately, nationwide access to the abortion pill mifepristone is being challenged in court.
DeSantis, who has rocketed to Republican stardom through his focus on divisive cultural issues, had been uncharacteristically tepid in his support for the six-week ban, typically only saying, “We welcome pro-life legislation,” when asked about the measure. Last year, DeSantis signed a 15-week abortion ban in a large public ceremony at an evangelical church.
The governor is expected to announce his presidential candidacy after the session ends in May, with his potential White House run in part buoyed by the conservative policies approved by the Republican supermajority in the statehouse this year.
“DeSantis signed the extremist 6-week abortion ban into law just before 12 am, hoping Floridians won’t notice he stripped away a right most people agree with,” House Democratic Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said on Twitter. “If we don’t want FL’s present to become America’s future, we must stop him in ’24.”
Abortion bans are popular among some religious conservatives who are part of the GOP voting base, but the issue has motivated many others to vote for Democrats. Republicans have recently lost in elections centered on abortion access in states such as Kentucky, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“Ron DeSantis, continues to put his political ambitions over the rights and well being of Floridians. He’s not looking out for their best interests — he’s thinking only of himself and his future presidential campaign. Make no mistake: this dangerous decision will backfire and harm the very people he is supposed to protect,” Jenny Lawson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement.