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Florida bill would ban abortions if fetal heartbeat detected

Planned Parenthood exec on Roe v. Wade

A bill filed by a Florida state lawmaker aiming to ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected has led to public outcry from some progressive groups, with one advocate stating it's "among the most extreme" ever filed in the country.

House Bill 235, filed by Republican Florida state Rep. Mike Hill, would make it illegal for women to get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The lawmaker, who represents the city of Pensacola and parts of the state's Northern panhandle, told CBS News he filed the bill "because it will save lives. It will save the unborn babies."

Hill believes in the statement from "The Declaration of Independence" which says, "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," also applies to unborn children.

As a lawmaker, he said he's "there to secure those God-given rights, one being life."

Hill's bill would require doctors to provide an examination for a "detectable fetal heartbeat" on women seeking an abortion and inform them if there is a heartbeat, as well as review the results of the exam.

Women who decline to review the results, need to do so in writing.

The fetal heartbeat is usually detected when a woman is around six weeks pregnant. Women typically discover within four to seven weeks that they are pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

According to the bill, any person who provides an abortion after a heartbeat is detected commits a third-degree felony.

"It is definitely the most extreme proposal we've ever entertained in Florida and among the most extreme in the United States," Amy Weintraub, the reproductive rights program director for Progress Florida, told CBS News.

Weintraub said this kind of restriction would make it difficult for most women to discover they are pregnant and arrange for an abortion procedure in time.

Weintraub said the limitations would "require you to get the money together, to get the transportation together. It puts legal abortion out of reach for most people."

And, she said, it would disproportionately impact low-income women.

"People with resources can travel to other states if necessary. For sure it will affect low-income women more harshly," said Weintraub.

Hill refuted the claim, "That's nonsense. Those on the left are always trying to divide or place people in certain groups or categories. I don't agree with that, because my bill does not designate your income."

The bill does permit an abortion in cases of incest, rape, human trafficking, with "a copy of a restraining order, police report, medical record, or other court order or documentation" to prove the claim.

Additionally, an abortion can be provided if a woman has been diagnosed with a condition that "would create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function if the woman delayed terminating her pregnancy."

Currently in Florida, abortions are banned after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother's life is in danger or her physical health is seriously compromised.

The bill also strikes "fetus" from current abortion-related laws replacing the word with "unborn human being," defining it as "an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth."

"There cannot be the argument that this is not a human being," Hill said. "What it [HB 235] does is to protect lives of what is determined to be a functioning human being."

Hill said that his bill "does nothing to infringe upon or prevent birth control or contraception or family planning. I would like to see that even more available, but I believe it is readily available now."

As of 2014, about 70 percent of Florida counties did not have clinics that provided abortions and 20 percent of women in the state lived in those counties, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

While some critics of the bill said it would restrict the control women have over their bodies, Hill said the belief people have "sole control" of their bodies is "inaccurate."

"Women are told what to do with their bodies all the time. Women are told that you can't drink and drive, women are told that you can't murder. The idea that women are in sole control of their bodies is inaccurate — just as the same as there are laws that say men aren't in sole control of their bodies," Hill said. "You have the right of your pursuit of happiness, as long as it doesn't infringe upon another person's pursuit of happiness."

House Bill 235 is similar to others filed in 10 other states, but none of them have made it past governors, legislatures or courts, according to The Gainesville Sun.

"There is a reason this bill has failed in many other states — that is because it is unconstitutional," Florida's Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo said in a statement Jan. 16. "We will fight to see that this legislation never becomes law in Florida."

However, the state's governor has indicated he would support such legislation in the past.

During now-Gov. Ron DeSantis' first gubernatorial debate, he pledged to sign legislation that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected, reports Politico.

Also, the state's Supreme Court, which has been viewed as a final barrier against attempts to decrease abortion access, is changing after three justices recently retired, The Gainesville Sun points out.

DeSantis has filled two of the seats with judges who are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group which supported the nomination and confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The bill was filed Jan. 10 for consideration during the next legislative session which begins in early March.