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Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill banning abortions after 15 weeks

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks during a news conference on Feb. 1 in Miami. (Rebecca Blackwell/AP)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday signed legislation that will ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy as Republican-led states move swiftly to restrict abortion access.

Florida currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks. The new law, which passed the GOP-controlled legislature in March, includes exceptions for the life of the mother and “fatal fetal anomalies” but does not make exceptions for rape or incest. It would take effect in July.

“We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves,” said DeSantis, who is up for reelection this year and widely seen as a 2024 presidential hopeful. He added, “Of course, these are babies that have heartbeats and that can feel pain and can move,” a claim challenged by medical science.

Before now, the strongest abortion law signed by DeSantis was a 2020 measure requiring parental consent. Other prominent GOP governors likely to run for president in 2024, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have made antiabortion measures a priority in their states.

Fla. Republicans ditch Texas-style abortion law for what they call a ‘generous’ 15-week ban, drawing criticism from all sides

In Kentucky, the Republican-led legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto Wednesday evening and passed strict abortion restrictions that advocates say will force the state’s two clinics to stop providing abortions immediately.

Florida’s 15-week ban is modeled after a Mississippi law at the heart of the case currently under review by the Supreme Court, which could overturn or roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark precedent that has guaranteed the right to abortion nationwide for nearly 50 years. Republican lawmakers in Florida have said they settled on a 15-week ban to maximize the chance that their legislation can take effect soon after the Supreme Court announces its decision this summer.

Democratic lawmakers in the state fought hard to stop the bill’s passage earlier this year, staging a series of protests at the Tallahassee capitol.

“It’s not even a culture war issue. It is health care. Abortion is health care. So how dare you strip away our rights with this new piece of policy?” said Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) at a Tallahassee rally in January.

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Eskamani and other abortion rights advocates see the 15-week ban as part of DeSantis’s broader presidential strategy.

“He doesn’t want to be one of the candidates who was governor who did not ban abortion,” said Eskamani in a February interview. “He wants to be able to put on all his mailers, ‘I banned abortion in Florida.’”