Orlando Rep. Eskamani files bill to prevent criminal charges for getting an abortion in Florida

Ron DeSantis falsely claimed on TV that state law currently only criminalizes abortion providers, not people who get abortions.

click to enlarge State Rep. Anna Eskamani speaking at an abortion rights march in Orlando in January 2023. - Photo by Matt Keller Lehman
Photo by Matt Keller Lehman
State Rep. Anna Eskamani speaking at an abortion rights march in Orlando in January 2023.

Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, has filed legislation that would prevent pregnant people from being criminally charged for getting an abortion in Florida, even if it’s obtained after 15 weeks of pregnancy — the state’s current limit.

The legislation, filed for consideration during the 2024 legislative session, is identical to a companion bill filed by Democrat Lauren Book in the State Senate in September. That bill was filed shortly after Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis falsely claimed on TV that state law currently only criminalizes abortion providers, not people who get abortions.

The legislation filed by Eskamani and Book aims to change Florida statutes to align with that claim.

“Governor Ron DeSantis and GOP allies like to say that abortion bans don’t lead to the criminalization of women and abortion seekers,” Rep. Eskamani shared in a statement. “If that is true, then passing this bill should be easy and bipartisan.”

But, she added, she suspects the comments “are not sincere” and that “anti-abortion extremists are more than happy to arrest and incarcerate those who practice self-managed abortion care.”

“If they are sincere, then we must pass this bill to guarantee the safety of our fellow Floridians,” she concluded.

Gov. DeSantis, who’s trailing behind in his floundering bid for president, recently shared that he’d support a national 15-week abortion ban, after dodging the question for months on the campaign trail.

Currently, abortion in Florida is legal up to the 15th week of pregnancy. A six-week ban, approved by DeSantis in the dead of night in April, is currently on hold, pending a Florida Supreme Court review of a legal challenge to the 15-week limit over its constitutionality. If deemed constitutional, under Florida’s state constitution, the six-week ban would become effective 30 days after the ruling.

Despite DeSantis’ claim to the contrary, Florida law states that “[a]ny person who willfully performs, or actively participates in, a termination of pregnancy” in violation of Florida’s abortion limit (save its limited exceptions) may be subject to a third-degree felony charge.

“The imprisonment of women, girls, sexual assault survivors, and their doctors through dangerous abortion bans is cruel and anti-freedom,” Sen. Book said in a statement, after filing her identical legislation in September.

While Eskamani’s announcement of the legislation focused on its decriminalization of self–managed abortion (by way of an abortion pill, or outside of a safe medical setting, for instance) Eskamani clarified in an email that her legislation does extend to all forms of abortion.

“I assume self-managed abortion would be the most common form,” she wrote, “but the goal is no patient would be criminally punished, regardless of how they end their pregnancy.”

History shows when there are abortion restrictions in place, pregnant people can make desperate choices. Abortion bans can also endanger pregnant people, and several Florida doctors have also spoken up publicly in opposition to abortion bans.

With a GOP supermajority in the state Legislature, it’s unclear whether Eskamani or Book’s bills will even be heard come January 2024, let alone passed. Most state Republican legislators supported the six-week ban earlier this year, as well as the third-degree felony charge for violations of it.

Just last week, Florida Republican Fabián Basabe filed his own "compromise" bill that would establish a 12-week abortion limit in Florida, issuing a statement to the website Florida Politics saying it's "crucial to prioritize a common-sense approach."

Outside of the state Legislature, a campaign by abortion advocates to put abortion rights on the 2024 ballot in Florida is gaining traction. The proposed ballot initiative would amend Florida's state constitution to bar laws that restrict abortion “before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

Over 400,000 signatures gathered by the campaign so far have been validated by the state, which is about 45%o of signatures necessary for the initiative to make it onto the ballot. All in all, the campaign has collected over 600,000 signatures, but not all have yet been verified.

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About The Author

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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