WASHINGTON — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Senate President Walton Simpson are backing away from a key component of the Texas abortion ban after Florida state lawmakers announced that they would consider passing a similar bill.
Florida Republicans plan to take up their own anti-abortion legislation early next year, but DeSantis has expressed some hesitation about details of the Texas bill, which provides financial incentives to private citizens who file suit against anyone assisting someone with an abortion.
As it stands, private citizens in Texas can sue anyone involved in terminating a pregnancy after about 6 weeks. Defendants are also responsible for a $10,000 fee if they are found guilty and attorney fees whether or not they win their case.
“Gov. DeSantis doesn’t want to turn private citizens against each other,” Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, told Buzzfeed News.
The remarks directly challenge Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has championed all points of his state’s 6-week abortion bill, including prohibiting abortions after 6 weeks for victims of rape and incest. In doing so, Abbott vowed to “work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas.” Both governors are considered potential Republican presidential candidates for 2024.
The divide points to an early split among anti-abortion Republican lawmakers who may consider the civil enforcement approach too stringent as the party balances enacting its agenda without energizing Democrats through extreme challenges to abortion rights. Texas congressional Republicans were largely silent after the Supreme Court held that the 6-week abortion ban should stay in place.
DeSantis’s statement followed a press conference in his home state where the governor doubled down on his stance against abortion rights but called the new legislation “interesting” without much of a commitment to details of the bill.
“I’m gonna look more significantly at it,” DeSantis told reporters during a press conference in West Palm Beach last week.
Florida’s Senate President Wilton Simpson has said he does not support the provision of the Texas law that includes financial incentives. He has also reiterated that current Florida law has made exceptions for rape and incest.
Florida Republicans have tried to restrict abortion for decades and have introduced their own fetal cardiac activity bill, but the proposal has had little success because of a right to privacy clause in Florida’s state constitution that protects a person’s decision to seek an abortion. Outside of the new civil enforcement route, Florida would have to change the state’s constitution or rely on the judicial branch to redefine the state’s privacy clause.
“This does seem like a game changer that the Supreme Court is going to uphold,” John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action, the legislative arm of the anti-abortion organization Florida Family Policy Council, said of Texas’s new law. “This scheme is a whole new ability to think about this in a creative roundabout way.”
Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a prominent conservative in the state delegation, and state Rep. Erin Grall, a Catholic priest and a member of the Florida House of Representatives, have championed anti-abortion policies for years and are expected to play important roles in whatever shape a new bill takes at the start of the next state legislative session.
Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who’s opposing Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy, has also vowed to introduce an anti-abortion bill in Florida’s upcoming legislative session.
“I think that there is a consensus amongst the House, the Senate, and the governor's office that they want to have a significant pro-life bill this session,'' Stemberger told BuzzFeed News.