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A Senate panel's approval of a 6-week abortion ban in Florida draws reaction from both sides

 Abortion supporters rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2022.
Julio Ochoa
WUSF Public Media
Abortion supporters rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Sept. 14, 2022.

A Florida bill that would limit abortion after six weeks of pregnancy has moved forward in the state Senate.

The bill on Monday cleared the state Senate's GOP-controlled Committee on Health Policy while several amendments brought by the panel's three Democratic members failed.

The bill comes despite an ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's 15-week abortion ban, passed last year. It's before the Florida Supreme Court, which may not rule until the legislative session ends in May.

During public comment, the majority of speakers urged the committee to reject the bill. Od'Juan Whitfield is with Faith in Public Life, a clergy-based advocacy group that supports social justice issues.

"I'm wearing black today because I'm mourning all the women that will die because of this bill," Whitfield said. "And let it be known that Florida will not be a place where woke comes to die but it will be a place where women die."

But several speakers, including Andrew Shirvell, representing Florida Voice for the Unborn, said the six-week ban does not go far enough.

"Please amend this bill and protect all unborn children from the moment of conception, without exception."

Unlike the 15-week ban, the six-week proposal includes exceptions for victims of rape or incest up until 15 weeks of pregnancy, but only with documentation that a crime was committed.

Dr. Karen Harris of Gainesville is a member of Florida's maternal mortality review committee. She said the state's current law places gynecologists in a difficult position when caring for patients with complex medical issues.

"Many patients do not know they have a life-endangering condition until they present for pre-natal care, usually well beyond the sixth week of pregnancy," Harris said. "Who defines 'conditions that affect maternal life and health?' How much risk is enough risk to end a pregnancy? How much risk of death?"

A companion House bill has also cleared its first committee hearing.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter
Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.