Days after Alabama’s governor signed the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, a conservative lawmaker in Florida says he’s encouraged about what that could mean for similar legislation here.
“I certainly expect that this discussion will continue and that I will be a part of it,” State Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala said Friday on The Florida Roundup. “As policymakers we now have a lot to look at. And I think that we see a growing number of people moving more to some pro-life views.”
Meanwhile, reproductive rights activists have denounced the law, calling it the latest in a series of assaults on a woman’s right to choose.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat who represents parts of Orange County, called the threats to abortion access “a crisis.”
“Women’s health care is at risk…the future of women and girls in our state and country is at risk," she said. "And we need to do our part to ensure that no matter how much money you make or where you live in our state you have full bodily autonomy [and] agency to make personal medical decisions.”
Abortion has long been among the most divisive issues in the United States. But now, after the newest Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh shifted the court's majority firmly to the right, some lawmakers are hoping that legal challenges to state-level abortion bills will set the stage for a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion a constitutional right.
And the battle over abortion is being waged most fiercely in the southeast corner of the country.
On Wednesday, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed legislation passed by 25 male state senators that effectively bans abortion in the state, including rape and incest. It also makes providing an abortion a felony.
Georgia and Mississippi lawmakers also passed so-called "fetal heartbeat" laws this spring, which ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Florida lawmakers hoping to pass similar measures this session were not successful. A fetal heartbeat bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Hill, a self-described evangelical Christian, never got a committee hearing.
And an effort to require a pregnant teenager to get parental consent before getting an abortion passed out of the Florida House, but died without a vote in the full Senate. Baxley was a Senate co-sponsor.
Marc Caputo, POLITICO National Correspondent, said that the failed efforts speak to Florida's stark political divisions.
“If you have a state that is heavily red you’re going to probably see more of these, and if you have a state that’s heavily blue you’re going to see less of these or looser restrictions on abortion,” he said. “And if you have a purple [state], you’re probably going to see not as many or none of these as well. And Florida is still a purple state.”
Eskamani said the failed legislation shows abortion “has overwhelming support to remain safe and legal” in Florida.
“I think it’s safe to say that the 25 men who voted to have the most extreme anti-abortion legislation passed in this country don’t reflect the majority of Americans,” she said. “It’s one reason why these restrictions that senator Baxley brought forth did not get a hearing. It’s a reality that women across the state and country are coming together to say 'enough is enough.'"
Baxley said he expected fierce debate. But he said he is encouraged by what he feels is growing support in the state for tougher abortion restrictions.
“I think we’ll see some improvement in moving away from the idea that we should recommend, enforce, encourage people to destroy their own infants,” he said. “It does become particularly pointed in an environment where we are a tipping point state that can go either way at different times.”
Historically, Florida's Supreme Court has blocked certain abortion measures passed by the GOP-dominated legislature.
In Florida, a parental consent law was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1989.
In 2017, the court blocked a 2015 state law requiring women to wait 24 hours and have two doctor visits before getting an abortion.
But the court has undergone a conservative makeover under DeSantis.
Baxley, who described himself as “100 percent pro life,” said he believes the unborn “are independent lives separate from the mother who’s carrying the child.”
But he also suggested that access to abortion is deteriorating the fabric of society and warned of its economic and demographic impact.
“When you get a birth rate less than 2 percent, that society is disappearing,” he said of Western Europe. “And it’s being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate, don’t wish to assimilate into that society and they do believe in having children. So you see that there are long range impacts to your society when the answer is is to exterminate.”
Eskamani stressed that the abortion rate is in decline in the United States and called for greater access to contraception, comprehensive sexual health education and pre- and post-natal care women and girls.
“Florida ranks 46 out of 50 on women’s health outcomes,” she said. “We can find common ground on securing economic support for women who want to become mothers and have those options available for them.”
“And also,” she added, “we have to uphold the constitution y’all.”