TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A sponsor of Florida's six-week abortion ban said her ultimate goal is a society where the practice is "unthinkable."
State Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, made the comment ahead of HB7's first committee stop Thursday. It is there that supporters and abortion advocates are expected to clash in an hours-long discussion.
"We can help change the national debate, the national discussion," Persons-Mulicka said. "Ultimately, our goal is to create a society where abortion is unthinkable — where every mother has the support and the option for adoption and that folks will be there, standing with her during this process."
During a one-on-one discussion Wednesday, Persons-Mulicka told us she believes in "life at conception" and thinks her controversial House measure is a step forward. If the governor signs and state courts uphold the policy, its provisions prohibit Florida physicians from performing abortions after six weeks. Exceptions are made in the bill for rape, incest and fatal fetal conditions.
It's a drastic reduction from the current law, a ban after 15 weeks with exception only for fatal conditions. Lawmakers approved the ban last year. Persons-Mulicka helped carry the measure in the House but wanted to go further.
"We can see a heartbeat at six weeks," she said. "A heartbeat is irrefutable evidence of life. This legislation will take consensus to pass both chambers and is a significant step forward."
There is disagreement in the medical community over what actually happens at six weeks. Experts in various reports prefer "cardiac activity" to a "heartbeat." Many have said the heart isn't fully-formed and its pulses are sporadic.
"At six weeks of gestation, those valves don't exist," Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN who specializes in abortion care and works at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said. She told NPR last year that "the flickering that we're seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you 'hear' is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine."
Florida's abortion advocates, meanwhile, warn six weeks is before many know they're pregnant. They fear thousands, especially lower-income and minority women, will lose access to the procedure and turn to unsafe alternatives.
"It is effectively an outright ban," House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said.
Driskell and other Democrats vowed a war against the policy shortly after its filing on the first day of the 2023 legislative session. The minority party members acknowledge they don't have the numbers needed to block the bills but said they would take Republicans, and the issue, to the court of public opinion.
"This isn't good for them," Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said. "This won't look good. We're going to call it like we see it. It's crap."
Giving the party motivation was the outcome regarding the issue during the 2022 midterms. Voters in two red states — Kansas and Kentucky — rejected measures weakening abortion protections, and some national polling suggests cutting access isn't popular.
Even so, Persons-Mulicka feels emboldened after last year's elections. She sees a mandate by Floridians.
"The voters in the state of Florida have sent to the legislature majorities in both chambers — that are pro-life majorities," Persons-Mulicka said. "The voters made their voices known..."
GOP leadership in both the House and Senate have voiced support for the bill. The governor has said he welcomes "pro-life legislation." The controlling party seems to have the major pieces needed to get the ban across the finish line this year — but anything can happen in committee or on the chamber floors.
"There is no greater purpose that drives me than giving every child an opportunity to be born and the opportunity to live and find their purpose in life," Persons-Mulicka said. "We wouldn't be having this national debate if none of us were born."
The House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee is hearing HB7 at 8 a.m. Thursday. It's scheduled for three hours of discussion. The Senate's companion measure has two committee stops. The first is Health Policy on Monday at 3:30 p.m.