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Supporters, Detractors Of Baxley's Fetal Heartbeat Bill Have Showdown In The Capitol

Ryan Dailey

Supporters and opponents of Republican Senator Dennis Baxley’s Fetal Heartbeat Bill had a showdown of sorts Thursday in the Capitol. Baxley, who held a press conference alongside members of an anti-abortion group, wants an opportunity for the bill to get a committee hearing — and its detractors hope the measure never gets there.

Baxley led off his portion of the press conference by ripping the landmark U.S. supreme court opinion on abortion.

“It’s a somber day for me to confront the reality that, since Roe v. Wade, we have extinguished the lives of 60 million of our own offspring,” Baxley said.

His Fetal Heartbeat Bill has both sparked controversy and garnered support. It outlaws abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

“We protect turtle eggs, you can go to prison for destroying an eagle’s egg,” Baxley said. “And yet, somehow we reconcile that it’s okay to put women in this position and open a doorway that says it’s okay to destroy your offspring.”

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani, left, was on hand for Thursday's press conference with a crowd of advocates who stand in opposition to Senator Dennis Baxley's Fetal Heartbeat Bill.

Baxley’s isn’t the only abortion-related bill filed this session. A similar measure called the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act bans abortions after 20 weeks. And another bill would require parental consent for a minor to get an abortion.

Lynda Bell is president of Florida Right to Life, and spoke at the press conference alongside Baxley.

“It is unbelievable to even imagine that a minor child can get an elective surgical procedure – an abortion – without the consent of a parent,” Bell said.

Bell says she’s been outraged by politicians in other states pushing what she sees as infanticide.

“We watched in horror as the governor of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam, described proposed legislation that not only allowed abortion up until birth, but the killing of a born-alive infant,” Bell said.

Governor Ron DeSantis criticized both New York and Virginia for their laws and proposed legislation in his State of the State speech.

Representative Mike Hill says there are 15 co-sponsors of the Fetal heartbeat bill on the House side and 10 on the Senate side – which he claims is the most support by the numbers for any bill this session.

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Representative Mike Hill, pictured at the podium, says there are 15 co-sponsors of the Fetal heartbeat bill on the House side and 10 on the Senate side – which he claims is the most support by the numbers for any bill this session.

“We are 180 degrees out, we are completely juxtaposed to what we saw happening in New York and what we heard the Governor of Virginia saying,” Hill said. “We celebrate life.”

As Republicans addressed reporters, the Capitol’s fourth floor was also filling with people protesting the bill. Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani was on hand with a crowd of advocates who stand in opposition.

“Complete lies – and with respect, our colleagues have no idea what they were talking about,” Eskamani said, after hearing Republicans’ comments. “They’re spreading lies, and it was an all men panel of legislators pushing forward an unconstitutional, six-week abortion ban that we know has been tested in courts. And not only is it unconstitutional, but it’s at such an extreme point in a woman’s pregnancy where she does not even know that she is pregnant yet.”

Eskamani says there’s a better way for lawmakers like Baxley to reach a goal of decreasing abortion numbers.

“We call out our colleagues respectfully on their lies, and ask that if you truly do care about supporting women and reducing the rate of abortion in this country, that you’ll support policies and access to contraception alongside comprehensive sexual health education,” the Orlando Democrat said.

Senator Lori Berman also joined with those protesting the measure. The Boynton Beach Democrat says she hopes the bill doesn’t get the chance to go before a committee.

“I hope not, but you never know – this is Tallahassee. Things go through that are unconstitutional all the time,” Berman said. “We are very clear – this is unconstitutional. I hope it does not get a hearing.”

Credit Ryan Dailey / WFSU-FM
Protesters of Senator Dennis Baxley's Fetal Heartbeat Bill gathered on the fourth floor of the Florida Capitol Thursday as Republican lawmakers held a press conference.

Eskamani says the now more conservative makeup of the Florida Supreme Court is a concern – but the state’s principle document may provide recourse.

“Florida’s constitution has an enumerated right to privacy that is protected, that has stopped many of the bills you’ve seen that are restrictive towards abortion. Whether its 24-hour mandatory delay, is one recent example. So yes, there is concern that we have a Supreme federal court now and a more conservative Florida court – absolutely there’s a concern,” Eskamani said. “But at the end of the day, Florida’s state constitution continues to have a strong right to privacy.”

Republican lawmakers say they expect to see Governor Ron DeSantis sign the bill if it ever reaches his desk.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.