Abortion rights activists are accusing the Florida Legislature's Republican leaders of capitalizing on the coronavirus pandemic to suppress public testimony against a controversial new measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Here are five things to know about the proposed legislation:
1. What the legislation would do
It would lower Florida's current 24-week abortion cutoff threshold by a full month. The state would join just two others – Missouri and Mississippi – that bar abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
2. Why supporters say it's needed
3. What critics say
While many states and doctors define fetal viability as occurring after 24 weeks of gestation, the timing is still a matter of intense debate. Abortion rights activists have long sought to prevent or overturn restrictions on when women can obtain an abortion, arguing the decision should be theirs and not subject to government mandates.
4. How public testimony is being limited
Due to the pandemic, the legislative process is largely off-limits to the general public to participate in, as least in a traditional sense. Access to Senate committee hearing rooms is limited to senators, staff, invited presenters and reporters, all of whom are required to undergo a weekly COVID test. Members of the public can testify via video link from a location a few blocks away from the Capitol. In-person testimony before House committees is limited to those who have secured a slot via an online reservation system.
5. Why critics argue their voices are being silenced
Not only do they say the in-person testimony procedures are too restrictive, but they also argue Republican leaders should allow Floridians to testify before committees virtually. In a virtual press conference Tuesday, Laura Goodhue of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates said, "It's extremely important that the public do have that opportunity to shape legislation. It's unfortunate that with the technology we have in hand, that the Florida Legislature is not opening it up to the public."