TALLAHASSEE, Florida (LifeSiteNews) — Pro-life groups weighed in Friday on the passage and signing into law of Florida’s new “heartbeat bill,” which bans nearly all abortions in the state after a baby’s heartbeat can be detected.
While one grassroots group says the measure doesn’t “go far enough,” another has hailed it as a crucial victory and a major step beyond the state’s pre-Dobbs 15-week ban.
As LifeSiteNews previously reported, Florida’s Republican-led legislature on Thursday approved a heartbeat bill that would ban abortions at around six weeks gestation, a stage when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure into law Thursday night, hours after it cleared the state House. The legislation will make it illegal to deliberately kill an unborn baby after his heartbeat can be detected, which is usually about six weeks’ gestation. The bill also allocates dollars to support families in need, and blocks abortionists from using telehealth services to facilitate chemical abortions remotely. Heartbeat laws have been credited with sharply reducing the number of abortions committed in the states that enact them.
The measure is slated to take effect 30 days after the state Supreme Court hands down a favorable ruling in a current case that will determine whether or not pro-life laws run afoul of the state constitution.
In a press release following the signing of the law, Gov. DeSantis said his administration is “proud to support life and family in the state of Florida.”
READ: DeSantis signs Florida’s six-week abortion ban hours after it clears the legislature
Florida Right to Life President Lynda Bell, who was present at the late-night signing of the bill, told LifeSiteNews Friday her organization is “very excited” about the new measure, which has “been a long time coming.”
“This is truly an historic day in Florida,” Bell said, noting that the bill represents the success of her organization’s work in the pro-life space since 1971. “This will really tackle the overwhelming majority of abortions that are taking place, and it virtually stops ‘abortion tourism’ in Florida. So, this is something that we can all collectively be thrilled about.”
“This bill is going to save a lot of lives,” she said, adding that her group “unequivocally” backs the measure.
The heartbeat law in Florida, a newly Republican-controlled state, isn’t as robust as the laws of some of its deep south neighbors like Alabama and Louisiana.
Notably, the Florida measure does not directly protect unborn babies who do not yet have a heartbeat, and contains numerous carveouts that would permit the killing of unborn babies conceived in rape, incest, or human trafficking up to 15 weeks (though documentation proving the assault must be provided, e.g. a police report, and two physicians must sign off); allow abortions to save a woman’s life, something pro-lifers say is never necessary; and continue to allow women to obtain chemical abortions in the state if the abortion drugs are dispensed in person or by a licensed physician.
For those reasons, the measure has drawn criticism from Tallahassee-based grassroots group Florida Voice for the Unborn, founded by Andrew Shirvell in 2020.
In a Friday press release shared with LifeSiteNews, Shirvell argued the law falls short because it still fails to protect many preborn children.
“The newly-enacted Heartbeat Bill, if and when it goes into effect, does not go far enough in protecting innocent lives because it arbitrarily and capriciously deems many unborn children unworthy of legal protections,” he said.
“The fact is, the Heartbeat Bill will not make Florida abortion-free,” Shirvell continued. “The majority of Florida’s abortion facilities will likely continue to operate and kill tens of thousands of innocent unborn children on our state’s soil.”
He said his group’s lobbying efforts to push for a more robust law failed to generate results, and said his organization will “continue to relentlessly push for full legislative protections for all of Florida’s unborn children.”
“Florida Voice for the Unborn and our grassroots supporters are not interested in meaningless photo-ops or being used to further anyone’s political ambitions,” he said. “We are concerned with saving the lives of all unborn children. Period.”
Gov. DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to LifeSiteNews’ request for comment.
For Bell, however, the six-week law is a major step in the right direction and will save countless lives. She said the heartbeat bill’s caveats were necessary to ensure that as many babies could be saved in Florida as possible, pointing out that a broader law might not have garnered sufficient support to get passed, leaving babies vulnerable to abortion.
“We have to pass what we know we can pass,” she said.
Unlike many other Republican-led states, Florida comes by its conservative bona fides relatively recently, and has been forced to contend with a 1989 state Supreme Court ruling that interpreted a “right to abortion” in the Florida constitution.
Bell told LifeSite that last year’s 15-week ban, signed into law by DeSantis ahead of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, had similarly been criticized at the time for not going far enough. But, she said, that measure was a crucial step that ultimately led to Friday’s far broader bill outlawing abortion at just six weeks.
She told LifeSite that a major impact of the heartbeat bill will be to put an end to the use of Florida as an abortion destination for pregnant moms in deep south states that have total abortion bans, something Florida Voice for the Unborn had flagged as a concern earlier this year.
RELATED: Abortion tourism on the rise in Florida despite the end of Roe v. Wade
“What the six-week bill is going to do is it’s going to stop, or help really grossly curb the basically interstate abortions, where they’re coming from Alabama, Georgia, and other states,” she said, explaining that it’s the hope of Florida Right to Life that the heartbeat bill will effectively shut the door on so-called “abortion tourism.”
Bell also highlighted the measure’s use of state resources to care for mothers, pointing out that pro-lifers are often wrongly accused of caring only for babies and not for women.
In addition to outlawing most abortions, the Florida law will also allocate $30 million to bolster state support for families, providing “counseling or mentoring services as well as providing non-medical material assistance to families such as car seats, cribs, clothing, formula, and diapers.”
“This is a great victory for babies and their mothers in the state of Florida,” Bell said.
RELATED: Don’t believe pro-abortion lies: Pro-lifers do care for mothers and babies at all stages of life
Gov. DeSantis has frequently earned support from conservatives for his consistent pro-life moves, including ousting a state prosecutor for refusing to enforce pro-life laws. He has also supported state efforts to defund abortion centers, warned state pharmacies that selling abortion pills was illegal, and signed the 15-week abortion ban ahead of the rollback of Roe v. Wade.
Widely viewed as a strong contender for the U.S. presidency in 2024 and anticipated to launch a presidential run after the end of his state’s current legislative session in May, DeSantis has also racked up wins among conservatives for fighting liberty-crushing COVID-19 measures, backing law enforcement, protecting children from mutilation transgender surgeries, and working to uproot radical racial and sexual ideologies from the classroom.
The governor’s office has previously assured LifeSiteNews that the “Declaration of Independence promises three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and we stand for all of them.”
A DeSantis spokesperson also previously told LifeSiteNews that the future of pro-life legislation in the state hinges on the success of its current, more modest 15-week ban, which has been beset by court challenges since DeSantis signed it into law in April 2022. Abortionists argue the measure violates the so-called “right to abortion” interpreted in the state constitution.
Florida’s Supreme Court may now be in a position to overrule its 1989 decision, thanks to DeSantis’ conservative judicial appointments and the U.S. Supreme Court’s June overthrow of Roe v. Wade, which had established a federal “right to abortion” in all 50 states.
In January, Florida’s Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the state’s 15-week ban, paving a way for the rollback of the statewide “right to abortion” and changing the trajectory of pro-life legislation in Florida. The court has allowed the state to continue enforcing the law for now, at least until it reaches a final verdict.
Florida’s new heartbeat law is set to take effect a month after the state Supreme Court affirms that such legislation does not violate the state constitution.