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NEW YORK – A bill passed by the Florida Senate that would ban abortions after six weeks also makes a significant investment in programs and funds to support women in need, which the state’s Catholic Conference is applauding.
“This is a significant step forward and something we’re very excited to see implemented,” Cristie Arnold, the Florida Catholic Conference Associate for Social Concerns and Respect Life, told Crux. “Laws protecting the unborn and then provisions in law that encourage women to choose life by specifically assisting them in their times of need are both crucial to building a culture of life.”
SB 300, the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” would prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. However, the proposal allows exceptions to save the life of the women, or if the fetus has a fatal fetal abnormality before the 27th week of pregnancy (the third trimester).
There are also exceptions in the case of pregnancy caused by rape, incest, or human trafficking until 15 weeks of pregnancy. In cases of rape and incest, a woman would have to provide documentation, such as a medical record, restraining order or police report. In the case of human trafficking, a physician would be required to report the case to local law enforcement.
Abortion is prohibited after 15 weeks under current Florida law. The “Heartbeat Protection Act” would align Florida with other Republican stronghold states that have passed abortion bans in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last summer.
Another part of the bill is geared towards supporting women in need. It would allocate $25 million in recurring funds annually to enhance the “Florida Pregnancy Care Network,” which is a statewide alliance of pregnancy support organizations, some of which are Catholic.
It would also revise state “pregnancy support services” to “pregnancy and parenting support services.” The language shift would allocate state funding for “nonmedical material assistance,” which includes clothing, car seats, cribs, formula, and diapers. Other services that would now be state-funded include more counseling, education materials, and classes regarding pregnancy, parenting, adoption, life skills, and employment readiness. Those are in addition to existing client services such as pregnancy testing, counseling, training, and education for pregnant women and their families.
Florida Democrats opposed the bill. The April 3 vote on the bill sparked protests at the Florida State Capitol that led to the arrest of Lauren Book, Florida’s senate minority leader, Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, and others who refused to leave the site at a time designated by police.
Book posted on social media multiple times April 3, first saying “Abortion is health care & women deserve to be equal and free!” And later alleging that the $25 million recurring payments are going to “fake, non-medical, religious clinics peddling scientifically inaccurate disinformation.”
Arnold said the Florida Catholic Conference was excited the bill passed, noting that they will continue advocating for more legislation that both protects the unborn and supports women.
“If we’re going to protect the unborn with more laws restricting abortion then we need to just as enthusiastically and importantly need to enact laws and programs to assist and empower women,” Arnold said. “In the future we’re looking forward to advocating for services that promote family life, that promote women choosing life, and that really empower women who are in need of help.”
After passing the Senate, the “Heartbeat Protection Act” now goes to the House for a vote, where it is also expected to pass with the Republican majority. If that were to happen, the bill would go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for a signature. The Republican governor has signaled support for the bill.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg