By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE and ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate on Monday approved a bill to ban abortions after six weeks, a measure supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis as the Republican prepares to launch his expected presidential candidacy.
The vote prompted demonstrations at the state’s capital that resulted in the arrest of the leader of the Florida Democratic Party and a state senator by city police.
Key Biscayne’s representative, Sen. Alexis Calatayud, broke with her fellow Republicans and voted no. She did not return calls for comment, but said that it would “go a long way to help change hearts and minds influenced by a decade of anti-life culture,” Politico reported.
The proposal must still be approved by the House before it reaches the governor’s desk. Florida currently prohibits abortions after 15 weeks in a bill passed last year.
The 15-week ban is already under legal challenge, with opponents contending it conflicts with a right to privacy contained in the Florida Constitution.
A six-week ban would more closely align Florida with the abortion restrictions of other Republican-controlled states and give DeSantis a political win on an issue important with GOP primary voters ahead of his potential White House run.
Florida Democrats and groups advocating for abortion rights say this proposal disproportionally affects low-income women and people of color.
The party said that Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, and Lauren Book, Florida’s senate minority leader, were arrested late Monday at a sit-in protest outside the Florida State Capitol. Images shared on social media showed the two women and other demonstrators as they are handcuffed by police officers.
In a news release, the Tallahasee Police Department said that protesters against the abortion ban were told they would have to leave after sunset, but 11 people refused to go and were arrested for trespassing. They did not identify them by name.
The bill would have larger implications for abortion access throughout the South, as the nearby states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi prohibit the procedure at all stages of pregnancy and Georgia bans it after cardiac activity can be detected, which is around six weeks.
“Bodily autonomy should not give a person the permission to kill an innocent human being. We live in a time where the consequences of our actions are an afterthought and convenience has been substitution for responsibility, and this is unacceptable when it comes to the protection of the most vulnerable,” said Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican who sponsored the bill.
The proposal allows exceptions to save the life of the woman and exceptions in the case of pregnancy caused by rape or incest until 15 weeks of pregnancy. In those cases, a woman would have to provide documentation such as a medical record, restraining order or police report. DeSantis has called the rape and incest provisions sensible.
It would require that the drugs used in medication-induced abortions — which make up the majority of those provided nationally — could be dispensed only in person by a physician.
The new bill would only take effect if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in an ongoing legal challenge that is before the state Supreme Court.
Republicans control a supermajority in the Legislature and have largely focused on DeSantis priorities during the ongoing legislative session. DeSantis 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 in the statehouse this year.
Democrats have conceded that they cannot stop the proposal from moving forward.
During debate earlier on Monday, Democratic Sen. Book urged women to contact her office directly, reading her phone number aloud on the Senate floor, if they are considering getting an abortion and need to connect with healthcare providers.
“Please don’t take matters into your own hands. Do not put your safety at risk. No back-alley abortions. There are people and funds that will help you. No matter where you live, no matter how desperate of a situation you are in, no matter how helpless it may seem. I promise, you are not alone. Call my office,” Book said.