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Florida Republican introduces ‘copycat’ bill to ban most abortions, echoing Texas law

An examination room at a women's reproductive health center that provides abortions in a city in South Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A Florida Republican has introduced a bill seeking to ban most abortions, following similar legislation that took effect earlier this month in Texas.

The bill, introduced Wednesday by state Rep. Webster Barnaby whose district includes Orange City, Fla., echoes controversial provisions seen in Texas that would ban abortions taking place after cardiac activity is detected, normally six to eight weeks into a pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant.

As is the case in Texas, the law would be enforced by private citizens filing lawsuits against those deemed to have “aided or abetted” in an abortion procedure. If the lawsuits are successful, those who file them could earn a financial reward of at least $10,000.

The architects of the Texas law designed it that way to avoid a court blocking the ban before it could take effect, and the unconventional approach worked.

While six-week bans in other states have been halted pending litigation over whether they violate the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court declined to halt the Texas law, saying the court could not immediately weigh in because abortion providers had sued state officials — and not private citizens charged with enforcing the ban.

In some instances, the Florida bill goes further than the Texas law, allowing claimants six years after an abortion is performed to file a lawsuit, rather than four. But unlike Texas, it allows for exceptions for rape, incest or medical emergencies that threaten the mother’s life.

The Florida bill also wants to change all references to “fetus” in the state’s abortion laws to “unborn child.”

The nation remains sharply divided over abortion rights, with a growing number of Republican-led state legislatures trying to limit or ban the procedure. Some fear Florida may be the first of many conservative states to mimic Texas’s legal measures.

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Condemning what it called a “copycat” Florida bill, NARAL Pro-Choice America, which lobbies to protect abortion rights, said Florida was just one of 11 states where lawmakers had announced intentions or plans to follow Texas’s “vigilante-enforced ban on abortion.” It named others states such as Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“We are horrified to see anti-choice politicians in Florida following in Texas’ footsteps,” Adrienne Kimmell, NARAL’s acting president, said in a statement. “The harm of these draconian attacks cannot be overstated and they most acutely impact those who already face the greatest barriers to accessing care.”

Barnaby did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Texas imposed a ban on abortions that kicks in as early as six weeks of pregnancy. Here’s why that timeline is really much shorter for those who are pregnant. (Video: The Washington Post)

The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said that the bill would be monitored.

“Gov. DeSantis is pro-life,” DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske told The Post. “The governor’s office is aware that the bill was filed today and, like all legislation, we will be monitoring it as it moves through the legislative process in the coming months.”

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services and a Democrat running for governor next year, staunchly opposed the bill and said it was “time to fight like hell” to stave off any ban.

“This bill is dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional,” she said in a statement. “It’s obvious that this is nothing more than a shameless attempt to try to control women and our bodies,” she added.

What to know about the Texas abortion law

The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments for Dec. 1 in a Mississippi case that involves a different abortion law and tests Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion before viability, which is usually 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

At least two lawsuits have been filed in Texas that could test that ban’s constitutionality as well. A disbarred Arkansas lawyer, Oscar Stilley, sued a doctor, Alan Braid, a physician in San Antonio, who admitted to performing an abortion considered illegal under the new law. Stilley said he filed the claim not because of strongly held views about reproductive rights — but in part because of the $10,000 he could receive if the lawsuit is successful. A second lawsuit filed Monday came from a man in Chicago who asked a state court to strike down the abortion law as invalid.

The Justice Department has also sued the state of Texas to try to block the abortion law. A federal district judge in Austin gave the state of Texas until Wednesday to reply to the Justice Department and set a hearing date for Oct. 1.