Florida Senate passes 15-week abortion ban, sends to governor

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March 3 (Reuters) - Florida's Republican-led Senate on Thursday gave final passage to a bill to ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, putting the state one step closer to adopting a gestational limit currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state's House of Representatives, which also has a Republican majority, approved the measure last month on a party-line vote.

Final legislative passage on a 23-15 vote in the Senate sent the bill to Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

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"Governor DeSantis is pro-life and has voiced support for the concepts in this bill," his spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, said earlier in the day.

Enactment of the bill would significantly reduce access to late-term abortions for women across the U.S. Southeast, many of whom travel hundreds of miles to end pregnancies in Florida because of stricter abortion laws in surrounding states.

The state currently permits abortions within up to 24 weeks of pregnancy without a mandatory waiting period, meaning a woman can terminate her pregnancy the day she arrives at a clinic.

Florida's measure, which would take effect on July 1, makes exceptions to the 15-week restriction only in cases when the mother is at risk of death or "irreversible physical impairment," or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

In a session on Wednesday, Republicans defeated an amendment that would have made exceptions for rape, incest and human trafficking.

Democratic lawmakers who supported the amendment asked their colleagues to focus on the emotional needs of pregnant victims of sexual assault. "We're better than this," state Senator Victor Torres said.

The bill's sponsor, state Senator Kelli Stargel, defended the bill's exclusion of an exception for rape, saying she rejected the premise that a "child should be killed because of the circumstances in which it was conceived."

Republican lawmakers around the country have introduced bills mirroring a 15-week abortion ban enacted by Mississippi and now being weighed by the U.S. Supreme Court after lower courts blocked the measure as unconstitutional. Arizona's Senate and West Virginia's House passed similar 15-week abortion bans last month.

Some states have also sought to craft their own versions of a Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks and empowers citizens to sue people who assist women getting abortions past that point. Idaho's state Senate passed a Texas-style six-week abortion ban on Thursday, sending it next to the state House for approval.

During oral arguments in December, the Supreme Court indicated its willingness to allow Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban to stand. A ruling in Mississippi's favor would conflict with the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable, typically around 24 weeks.

Besides seeking reinstatement of its abortion law, the state of Mississippi in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs has asked the high court to overturn Roe altogether.

The Supreme Court's ruling is expected this spring.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida said a privacy clause in Florida's constitution that explicitly protects against government "intrusion" in residents' private lives would be grounds for a lawsuit challenging a 15-week abortion ban.

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Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Aurora Ellis and Jacqueline Wong

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