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Florida Bans Dozens of Pro-Abortion Protesters from the Capitol for an Entire Year

The activists were protesting an unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban that passed the House just after midnight on Thursday.

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Image for article titled Florida Bans Dozens of Pro-Abortion Protesters from the Capitol for an Entire Year
Screenshot: Twitter/Florida Planned Parenthood Advocates (Fair Use)

Early Thursday morning, the Florida House of Representatives passed an unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban that one state lawmaker called “generous,” because she believes that life begins at fertilization. As the hours-long debate on the bill closed, Capitol Police forced activists protesting the legislation, House Bill 5, out of the Tallahassee chamber.

Capitol Police gave 25 protestors trespass notices for the overnight protest and banned them from entering the House building for an entire year, per the Tampa Bay Times. They also arrested one person, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates statewide organizing director Lauren Brenzel, for allegedly failing to identify themselves, although Planned Parenthood disputes this. It’s not the first time protestors were removed from the Florida Capitol for protesting the bill: Republican legislators ejected student activists testifying against the abortion ban from a public House committee hearing on January 27.

Florida Planned Parenthood Action shared a video of Capitol Police trying to physically remove one protestor from their seat. The activists in this video were with Students for a Democratic Society, and a number of them had driven to the capitol from Tampa to protest, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson told Jezebel.

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Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, told Jezebel in a statement:

What happened [Thursday] at the Capitol building was unconscionable—not only did the House pass a cruel abortion ban, but they did so under the cover of darkness. Abortion rights supporters were not allowed to remain in the gallery as the vote occurred, and students activists were targeted by law enforcement. House leadership did this on purpose, because they know that Floridians do not support an abortion ban. But Planned Parenthood and our partners in the fight for reproductive freedom will not be silenced. We stand in full support of our volunteers and staff who so bravely made their way to the Capitol not only on Wednesday night, but in the weeks leading up to the vote. And we will continue to push back until this abortion ban is defeated.

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HB 5 passed the Florida House by a vote of 78 to 39 and now goes to the Senate, where an appropriations committee will hold a hearing on Monday, February 21 at 1 p.m. Republicans have a 24 to 15 majority in the state senate, and Governor Ron DeSantis supports a ban at 15 weeks.

If signed, this ban could only go into effect if the Supreme Court upholds a similar 15-week ban out of Mississippi, which it is unfortunately expected to do before the end of June. Florida is one of several states passing unconstitutional bans in anticipation that the high court will soon greenlight them: This week, legislative chambers in Arizona and West Virginia advanced their own 15-week bans. A Supreme Court decision upholding the Mississippi law would further gut Roe v. Wade, though the court could also decide to overturn that landmark case entirely, as Mississippi asked it to do.

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Not only is HB 5 unconstitutional at the federal level, it also violates the state constitution’s right to privacy. To drive home that point, protestors sitting in the Florida House gallery on Wednesday wore shirts printed with the constitution’s privacy clause: Article 1, Section 23. The Florida state supreme court recognized a right to abortion under the privacy clause, but that court has since become much more conservative after DeSantis made several appointments. A lawsuit over HB 5 could result in the state supreme court finding no such right to abortion.

Florida activists fill the House gallery, wearing shirts bearing the state constitution’s privacy clause — Article I, Section 23. Credit: Colin Hackley, 2022
Florida activists fill the House gallery on Wednesday, February 16, wearing shirts bearing the state constitution’s privacy clause—Article I, Section 23. Credit: Colin Hackley, 2022
Photo: Photo: Colin Hackley via Planned Parenthood
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DeSantis—who we should note is also a possible 2024 presidential candidate—said he didn’t support a Texas-style six-week ban enforced by private lawsuits, but that he would sign a 15-week ban, calling it “very reasonable.” Let’s be clear: No abortion ban, at any stage of pregnancy, is reasonable. Lawmakers like him who suggest they’re offering some sort of compromise with bans at 15 weeks are full of shit—they want to go further. DeSantis himself said he opposed a Texas-style law not because it banned abortions at six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant, but because he didn’t like the civil enforcement mechanism.

If the ban were to go into effect, it would obviously harm Floridians who need abortions after 15 weeks, but it would also limit access across the Southeast. Abortion is available until 24 weeks in Florida, and the state is a haven for people in surrounding states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia that ban the procedure after 20 weeks, or have fewer clinics and more restrictions than Florida does. If courts allow Florida to ban abortion at 15 weeks or earlier, people in the South will increasingly have to face traveling to states like North Carolina or Illinois for care.

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Abortion bans are unpopular. Banning people from protesting like Florida did this week is of a piece with gerrymandering and voter suppression laws—they’re all tactics to keep people from challenging minority rule. Lawyers for Mississippi cynically argued in briefs and at the Supreme Court in December that people who didn’t like abortion bans could simply vote out the lawmakers who supported them. Justice Brett Kavanaugh ate up this argument, asking the lawyer: “You’re arguing that the Constitution is silent and, therefore, neutral on the question of abortion? In other words, that the Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on the question of abortion but leaves the issue for the people of the states or perhaps Congress to resolve in the democratic process?”

That’s what Kavanaugh and others want people to believe—that it’s fine for the Supreme Court to overturn longstanding precedent because we still all have a say in the democratic process. But we can see with our own eyes that it’s a lie.