According to Rewire.News bill tracking service, at least 60 “fetal heartbeat” abortion bills have been filed in 15 states since 2013 with 55 failing to be adopted, three blocked by court rulings, including in Iowa in December, and two – both in Ohio – vetoed by Republican Gov. John Kasich.
There are now at least 14 such bills proposed in seven states for consideration during 2019 legislative sessions, including – for the first time – two in Florida.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, on Thursday announced he was pre-filing Senate Bill 792, which would prohibit the termination of a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat is detected and require a physician to perform an examination for a fetal heartbeat and inform a woman seeking to obtain an abortion of the presence of one of detected.
In a prepared statement, Baxley referred to the number of estimated abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
“It’s time for us to face our history of the last 46 years and the 60 million faces of our offspring that we have extinguished,” Baxley said. “The heartbeat has always been the clear signal of the presence of life, and that life must be protected.”
Baxley’s bill is, essentially, the Senate companion to House Bill 235, pre-filed on Jan. 10 by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.
Both would levy third-degree felony charges for any "person who knowingly or purposefully performs or induces an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn human being whose fetal heartbeat has been detected," with limited exceptions if a woman’s life is deemed to be in danger by continuing the pregnancy.
Both bills also strike "fetus" from the state’s abortion-related laws, replacing it with "unborn human being," defining it as "an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth."
In his statement, Baxley referred to a similar bill passed in Ohio in late 2018 that ultimately was vetoed by Gov. Kasich.
“I think we have a great opportunity this year,” he said. “Our new governor, Ron DeSantis, has expressed support for meaningful pro-life legislation, so I don’t think we’ll run in to the same issues that Ohio did.”
DeSantis has pledged to sign such a bill if the Legislature presented him with one. He has also appointed three conservative justices to the state’s Supreme Court since assuming office following the mandatory-age retirements of three liberal justices whose presence had precluded lawmakers from filing fetal heartbeat bills in the past.
The court, now with six of seven justices regarded as conservative, is also led by Chief Justice Charles Canady who, as a Congressman, filed the controversial federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 1995 that was vetoed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the fetal heartbeat can usually be detected when a woman is around six weeks pregnant, occasionally before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Abortions are banned in Florida after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother's life is in danger or her physical health is seriously compromised.
Baxley’s bill, which had one co-sponsor – Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City – by noon Thursday has not been assigned to a committee.
Hill’s HB 235, with seven co-sponsors, has been referred to the Health Quality Subcommittee, Judiciary Committee, and Health & Human Services Committee.
When introducing his bill in January, Hill said he merely wanted the state to comply with a statement in the Declaration of Independence, which states, "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," also applies to unborn children.
Hill said he believes any lawmaker’s first priority should be to “secure those God-given rights, one being life."
Baxley’s bill will likely draw the same fire from the same women’s rights groups and pro-choice organizations that called Hill’s proposal the “most extreme” fetal heartbeat bill introduced in any state.
"It is definitely the most extreme proposal we've ever entertained in Florida and among the most extreme in the United States," Amy Weintraub, the reproductive rights program director for Progress Florida, told CBS News in January.
Weintraub said the restrictions outlined in Hill’s bill – the same as those included in Baxley’s proposal – would make it difficult for most women to discover they are pregnant and arrange for an abortion procedure in time.
Weintraub said the limitations would "require you to get the money together, to get the transportation together. It puts legal abortion out of reach for most people."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 70 percent of Florida counties did not have clinics that provided abortions and 20 percent of women in the state lived in those counties.
"There is a reason this bill has failed in many other states – that is because it is unconstitutional," Florida's Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo said in a Jan. 16 statement. "We will fight to see that this legislation never becomes law in Florida."
The 60-day legislative session begins March 5.