Moments before Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a highly publicized speech Tuesday morning touting his policy record, a Republican state legislator put forward a bill that will bring further national attention to the conservative transformation DeSantis has overseen in Florida: a proposal to ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy.
DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, did not comment on the legislation in his “State of the State” speech. But he nodded briefly to his anti-abortion credentials, saying, “We are proud to be pro-family, and we are proud to be pro-life in the state of Florida.”
The bill, SB 300, would ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, before many people even know that they are pregnant.
The bill features exceptions up until the 15th week of pregnancy for people who became pregnant due to rape or incest, though they must prove that they were a victim by providing a restraining order, police report, medical record or “other court order or documentation” — requirements that are often difficult to meet.
The new bill also has exceptions to save the life of the mother and, before the third trimester, for fetuses with fatal abnormalities, though the latter requires that two doctors “certify in writing” the abnormality.
Current Florida law bans abortion at 15 weeks, with exceptions for the mother’s life and for fetuses with fatal abnormalities, but not for rape or incest.
DeSantis signed that 15-week ban in April, narrowing the span that abortion was legal in the state from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Following the Supreme Court ruling in June overturning Roe v. Wade, however, DeSantis repeatedly vowed to “expand pro-life protections.” And last month, he indicated he would sign a six-week ban if it came to his desk.
While running for Congress in 2012, DeSantis told a local newspaper’s editorial board that he was “open” to a federal “constitutional protection for life.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis did not respond to additional questions from NBC News about the governor’s stance. But in comments to reporters following the speech, the governor said: “I mean, I think those exceptions are sensible. Like I said, we welcome pro-life legislation.”
The bill, like most conservative proposals that will be working their way through the Legislature in the current session, is unlikely to face any meaningful resistance, since Republicans enjoy a supermajority across both chambers in Tallahassee.
The issue, however, wasn’t helpful for Republicans nationally in the 2022 midterms. Democrats kept the U.S. Senate and fended off a red wave in the House in part by focusing heavily on Republican plans to further crack down on abortion rights.
In a statement Tuesday, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison quickly tied the ban to DeSantis.
“Time and time again, Ron DeSantis has made it clear he will do anything in his race for the MAGA base, even if it means pushing for one of the strictest abortion bans in the country,” he said. “For DeSantis and MAGA Republicans, last year’s extreme ban isn’t enough — they’re hellbent on going even further.”
The bill’s introduction, and DeSantis’ speech, came as the Florida state Legislature’s 2023 session kicked off, with a focus on targeting transgender people, expanding gun rights and further restricting diversity efforts at public universities — all measures that shed light on the direction of a prospective DeSantis presidential bid.
DeSantis has made his policy accomplishments in Florida central to his national pitch as he seeks to raise his profile. His recent memoir, for example, frequently trumpets his accomplishments in Florida as models for national policy. One chapter is even called “Make America Florida,” and he writes that “the Florida blueprint” is a “blueprint for America’s revival.”
In his speech Tuesday, DeSantis focused prominently on his lean in to culture war issues related to education and transgender people.
“Our schools must deliver a good education, not political indoctrination,” he said.
He added that “our children are not Guinea pigs for science experimentation,” and “we cannot allow people to make money off mutilating them.”
The speech, however, was thin on details regarding specific bills he wanted ushered through the Legislature in the current session on those topics, even though many have already been introduced. For example, a pair of corresponding bills in the state House and Senate would, if enacted, ban requiring students, educators and other school employees from using pronouns that “do not correspond with that person’s sex.” Those bills would also expand the Parental Rights in Education law that critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by extending a ban on teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity through the eighth grade (the current law implemented such a ban through third grade).
DeSantis, for his part, appeared to distance himself from any specific bills, telling reporters after his speech that lawmakers in Florida “have a right to file legislation,” but added, “I don’t control every single bill that has been filed.”
DeSantis also focused heavily on how he kept the state largely open during the Covid-19 pandemic, while further positioning himself as a vaccine skeptic (a break from his previous support for vaccine development and distribution).
“We defied the experts, we bucked the elites,” he said, before walking through a laundry list of conservative policy priorities like expanding gun rights, cracking down on fentanyl distribution and smuggling, illegal immigration and anti-China bills.
“We find ourselves in Florida on the front lines in the battle for freedom,” DeSantis said toward the end of his remarks. And he closed with an unsubtle tease of his growing national profile.
“I can promise you this,” he said. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”