Florida’s Proposed ‘Heartbeat Bill’ Ignites Emotional Debate

A bill that would make getting an abortion more difficult in Florida has moved another step closer to becoming law.

The Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee, after emotional and heated debate on March 16, passed the Pregnancy Planning and Support bill, with 13 Republicans voting in favor and five Democrats opposed.

To become law, the bill would still need to pass the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate, before moving to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A hearing on the bill drew a crowd and stretched beyond two hours. Of the 142 people signed up to speak at the meeting, most were vehemently opposed to the bill.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
Speakers at a Florida House of Representatives committee meeting at the state Capitol in Tallahassee wait on March 16, 2023, to share testimony on a bill that would prohibit most abortions after six weeks’ gestation. (Dan M. Berger/The Epoch Times)

Not all would-be speakers showed up. But dozens, many of them college students, came to the podium.

Vastly outnumbered were those who came to speak in favor.

Committee chairman Chuck Clemons, the speaker pro tempore, cautioned the crowd to maintain decorum and keep interactions civil.

“There was the potential for fireworks,” Clemons said later. “The committee was respectful of the viewpoints and offered empathy to those attending and [those who] spoke.”

Clemons thanked each speaker, including those who had criticized committee members or spoken disrespectfully to them.

Proposed Abortion Restrictions

With some exceptions, the proposed bill would ban abortions after six weeks of gestational age. Under a current state law, signed in April 2022 by DeSantis, abortions are limited after 15 weeks of fetal development.

Two months later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

The court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sent decisions on abortion back to the states.

Anti-abortion activists
Anti-abortion activists
Pro-life activists demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court after its ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case in Washington on June 24, 2022. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

The proposed Florida bill maintains existing exceptions that allow later abortions to save the life of the mother or in cases when the developing baby has fatal abnormalities.

It also would allow abortions in cases of rape and incest up to 15 weeks’ gestation.

In 2022, the state reported more than 82,000 abortions—the highest number of procedures in a single year since 2008. Of those, 115 were attributed to rape and seven to incest. As other states have tightened restrictions on abortion, Florida has become known as an “abortion destination,” where, despite the 15-week ban, the procedures currently are easier to obtain than in other parts of the Southeast.

Under the proposed law, for later abortions to be allowed, two doctors would have to agree that the exception is warranted.

The proposed bill also would require that abortion-inducing drugs are dispensed in person by a physician. And it would prohibit the use of telehealth for abortion-inducing treatments.

It also would prohibit using state funds to pay for travel out-of-state to obtain an abortion.


The “fireworks” Clemons had predicted were confined to what numerous speakers said as they came to the dais. Both speakers and lawmakers shared intensely personal experiences.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo
State Rep. Chuck Clemons, a Republican, serves in the 2023 Florida Legislature as speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives and chairman of the Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee. (Courtesy of the Florida House of Representatives)

Rep. Allison Tant, a Democrat, said her mother nearly died of preeclampsia seven months into pregnancy in the late 1940s. The condition forced her to abort a baby she fiercely wanted.

She went blind due to a complication of the pregnancy-related condition, and was hospitalized for a year, Tant said. Twelve years later, Tant was born.

“My mother never described this as anything but the most grief-stricken, traumatic experience of her life,” Tant said. “But it was a necessary procedure that saved her life, so that I could be here,  and my sister could be here, and so that my children could have a grandmother.”

The two-doctor rule would have posed a problem for her mother, who lived in a rural area with just one doctor, Tant said. Rural residents often live where doctors are scarce and hospitals are far away, others argued in agreement with her.

The six-week limit doesn’t provide enough time for many women to realize they’re pregnant, see a doctor, determine if their pregnancy is safe, and confirm that the baby is healthy, some said. And then, they still may need time to plan, pay for, and get an abortion.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, a Democrat, said her irregular menstrual cycle meant she didn’t know she was pregnant with her two children until 8-9 weeks into each pregnancy.

“A woman’s right to choose and make choices for herself—this really bothers me as a woman,” she said. “We talk about being a free state. And this is literally the antithesis of that.”

Some speakers testified about unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape, and said those instances surely happen, along with incestuous encounters, more frequently than state records reflect or that people realize.

Tears of Remembrance

Pro-life Rep. Joel Rudman, a Republican and a family doctor, said he’s delivered more than 110 babies. He’s often the person who tells a woman she’s pregnant.

“I’d say, nine times out of 10—or more than that, maybe 99 times out of 100—the news is well-received,” he said.

“There’s that occasional one where you get that sense of shock on their face. I’ve seen that look. I’ve seen that look on teenagers, who are in high school. I’ve seen that look in 48-year-old women.”

When patients are uncertain about the pregnancy, Rudman advises that they go home, think about the implications of what they’re considering, and come back the next day to discuss it.

Nearly all of them choose to keep their babies, he said.

He witnesses a range of emotions when those mothers return with their babies for check-ups.

“Each time the visit ends with the mother crying, because she remembers just how close she came to ending the life of the most important thing in her life,” he said, pausing to swallow hard, fight back tears, and regain composure.

He said he donates to a pregnancy crisis center a few doors down from his clinic.

abortion protest
abortion protest
A vandal left pro-abortion slogans on Loreto House, a crisis pregnancy center in Denton, Texas, on May 7, 2022. (Courtesy of Loreto House)

Those centers will receive more funding, if the bill becomes law, were targeted by many of the bills’ opponents. One called them “fake medical clinics.”

Crisis pregnancy centers, which seek to offer women alternatives to abortion, have been the targets of violence nationwide, with dozens of acts of arson and other vandalism.

A Duty to Protect

Democrats on the committee questioned the need to revisit the issue so soon after tightening restrictions on abortion not quite a year ago. They listed nearly 20 professional medical associations that publicly oppose the legislation.

They also offered amendments. None passed.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, a Republican, made no apologies for her stance.

Life begins at conception, she said, and there’s a duty to protect the unborn.

“The bill that is before you is not solely a reflection of my personal beliefs,” she said, “but of listening in an attempt to build consensus—consensus around policy that will promote life and support all of our mothers and children and families in the State of Florida.”

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