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A win for DeSantis – what does this mean for abortion rights

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On November 8th, Ron DeSantis was re-elected governor of Florida in a win that saw the Republican party tighten their grip on the former swing state. In his victory speech, DeSantis hailed, “The people have delivered their verdict. Freedom is here to stay.”

2022 saw the overturning of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision changing the course of abortion rights across America. DeSantis was a prominent voice in the abortion rights debate in Florida, his most notable act being his signing of the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality bill on April 14th, 2022.

The Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality bill represented what DeSantis called “the most significant protections for life that have been enacted in this state in a generation.” Its implementation saw a ban on abortions carried out after 15 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy, shortening the previous period in which an abortion was available by two months.

The bill does not recognise incest, rape, or human trafficking as exceptions to its authority. Abortion after 15 weeks is only permissible in cases where the person carrying the child is at risk of dying (“irreversible physical impairment”) or if the foetus has an abnormality which will likely prevent it from surviving to full term.

The signing of the bill saw outrage from many pro-choice leaders in Florida, one being Stephanie Fraim, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood in Central and Southwest Florida. Fraim affirmed, “If these politicians think the fight against this abortion ban is over they are sadly mistaken. We won’t rest until our rights are restored.” Her message was echoed by Democrat Annette Taddeo, who emphasised the hypocrisy of DeSantis’s decision, “The conservative values of freedom and limited government that the Governor claims to fight for, have gone right out the window when it comes to a woman’s choice about her own body.”

The Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality bill was not, however, the first step DeSantis had taken in restricting abortion rights. In 2020 he signed Senate Bill 404, which required a minor to have the written consent of their parent or guardian in order for a physician to be able to legally perform an abortion. Without such consent, they would be required to seek judicial bypass.

Additionally, under DeSantis’s governance, the 24-hour waiting period – that those seeking an abortion are required to observe – was upheld. This means that after requesting an abortion, an individual must wait 24 hours to attend a second appointment where they can undergo the procedure. This requirement was originally passed in 2015 and resulted in a seven-year lawsuit by pro-choice organisations, one being Gainesville Woman Care.

DeSantis faced criticism during his re-election campaign, with some saying his statements regarding the future of abortion rights under his governance possessed ambiguity and were hugely vague. Representative Fentrice Driskell of the Democratic party addressed this ambiguity, stating that “the people of Florida have a right to know where he stands right now, before they decide whether or not to elect him as governor.”

It remains unclear what this win will mean for abortion rights. Florida may follow other southern states, like Arkansas and Louisiana, in enforcing a ban on all abortions, or instead follow its neighbour, Georgia, in allowing a six-week period where abortion is legal. Many predict that DeSantis’s win will spur him on to run for President in 2024. 

Watch this space.

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