KISSIMMEE, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state’s 15-week abortion into law Thursday morning, hours after the bill was sent to him by the state legislature Thursday morning.
The governor spoke at the Nación De Fe Church in Kissimmee. The stage was set with a screen displaying the phrase “Florida is Pro-Life” alternating between English and Spanish. A large crowd was gathered for the event, with attendees on stage and in the crowd holding pro-life signs displaying messages like “Choose Life” and “Choose Courage.”
House Bill 5 has not been without its controversy, courting heated debate in both chambers of the legislature before making its way to the governor’s desk. Pro-abortion rights advocates have raised issues from the beginning, especially about the fact that the bill does not provide exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape, incest, or human trafficking.
Supporters and sponsors of the bill have said 15 weeks would be enough time to make the decision to get an abortion, even with a Florida court recently allowing a 24-hour hold time to be in place between state-required pre-abortion counseling and the actual procedure.
“We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves,” DeSantis said. “And in just a minute I will be signing House Bill 5, which protects the rights of unborn children starting at 15 weeks. This is a time where these babies have beating hearts, they can move, they can taste, they can see, they can feel pain, they can suck their thumbs, and they have brainwaves. This will represent the most significant protections for life enacted in this state for a generation.”
DeSantis told the crowd to pay attention to those who he called “the far left” and how they act and the stances they take when it comes to the politics of abortion.
“They are now taking the position that babies can be aborted up to the ninth month,” DeSantis said. “Literally you can go back to your parents, and those are some of the most significant experiences of my life, to hold your child for the very first time. What they would say is while you’re a parent holding that child, if you go back a day or two, they could snuff that child out entirely. That is just fundamentally wrong, that is infanticide, and that has no place. And you see how that type of mindset has led to things that really shock the conscience in our society. We just saw this terrible scandal in Washington DC…Is Mary Margaret here from the Daily Wire? She did this great expose…they found all of these remains of babies, and they found five basically infants, premature they would’ve been, but they would’ve been able to survive outside the womb. And yet Washington DC is treating that just like we would treat the trash from our lunch or something like that. It’s really horrifying to see that that could go on in our country, but particularly in our nation’s capital. So that is callous, that is wrong, and I want to thank her and the Daily Wire for exposing that.”
He continued, returning to the bill itself.
“What we’re doing today is, we’re not going to let that happen in the state of Florida. As I said today, the bill will provide protections for unborn children from abortion, when the child reaches 15 weeks of gestational age,” DeSantis said. “Of course these are babies that have heart beats and that can feel pain and move, as we said. The bill also expands fetal infant mortality review committees across the state, which engage medical professionals in communities to review infant mortality cases, and recommends reduction efforts tailored to their communities. Nearly half of Florida’s counties are currently not represented within a review committee. And data shows that mortality rates are higher in these areas.”
DeSantis said the bill would provide funding to create 11 more committees and ensure the whole state has committees to represent them.
“HB 5 also requires hospitals with labor and delivery services to participate in Florida prenatal quality collaborative initiatives, which range from opioid recovery programs to reducing caesarean overuse in deliveries. This requirement will move Florida to a statewide standard for quality birthing services and evidence-based interventions for issues like opioid abuse that cause higher rates of infant mortality. So we are viewing this as something protecting life, as something we see through…and if you see what we’re doing this week, we’re promoting fatherhood in Florida.”
The governor was referring to his signing of HB 7065, which funded a series of fatherhood initiatives to encourage keeping families together in Florida.
“We want our kids to have dads in the home. We want the fathers present, take responsibility. The most important thing you can do is take responsibility for the upbringing of your kids. If you look at probably one of the worst social trends we have, you go back to the mid 1950s, you didn’t have many broken families, and it has increased dramatically. It is in every racial or ethnic group, there’s some that are more acute than others but is increased across the board, so it’s a society-wide problem,” DeSantis said. “I think back to prior to us having kids, my wife and I, when we were married, we had a lot of fun, you know when you don’t have kids you can kind of just do what you want. Want to go to dinner? Just do it. Want to get in the car and go somewhere on the weekend? You can just do it. Whatever you want, you can probably figure out a way to do it. But when you have kids, it changes things. Then you have responsibilities. It’s not easy, there’s a lot of challenges to being a parent, but let me tell you, that responsibility is not something I would trade for the entire world.”
DeSantis said mentioned bringing his children to events and said that when he was home, he still wasn’t resting because of the work of being a father.
“When I’m at home, I’m not resting. It’s just the way it is. But what you do, particularly by being present, these dads who really need to be in their kids life, you are providing that role model for these kids to be able to grow up and lead meaningful lives. The statistics are overwhelming, when kids who grow up without a dad in the home, the chances of them dropping out of school, getting in trouble with the law, using drugs, increases dramatically.”
DeSantis said the state was proud to be leading on fatherhood initiatives. He also spoke about new initiatives for children in the state, including for education and the foster system, saying all children deserve the opportunity to succeed, and the state would support and sign legislation to provide funding for those purposes.
“It’s a statement of our values that every life is important,” DeSantis said, expressing excitement for signing the bill into law, before introducing lawmakers who helped the legislation come to fruition in Florida and thanking them for their work.
Senate President Wilton Simpson spoke first.
“This has been a transformative week,” Simpson said. “Our governor has signed into law three bills that will change lives and save lives in this state.”
Simpson said the state had a duty to protect life, saying abortion killed children and changed the lives of mothers, fathers and the entire extended family.
“Every unborn child is a special, unique human being deserving of protection from harm and the chance to grow up in a loving family,” Simpson said. “As an adopted child, I am proud to live in a state that not only protects innocent, unborn life but also supports children and gives parents the tools they need to choose life for their babies.”
He praised DeSantis’ signing of the fatherhood initiative law earlier this week, at an event in Tampa at the Buccaneers training facility, and thanked House Speaker Chris Sprowls for his support of the fatherhood initiative.
“Also, our governor signed into law increased benefits for foster families and caregivers that are not relatives this week. When I was growing up, we had also foster children in our home, so it’s something that was near and dear to my heart as we moved through this legislation,” Simpson said. “Improving the level of benefits for family members and foster parents could mean all the difference when these folks are considering whether they can take in a vulnerable child.” He said it would improve opportunities for children, and said “government was a horrible parent” in a critique of the current system, praising efforts to improve resources for those taking in needy children.
Sprowls spoke next.
“Every child has the right to life. Like many of you, I believe that life is a gift from god, and as I look out into this audience, I see warriors who have been on the front lines of the life movement,” Sprowls said. “Whether it is ministry, whether it is ministering to young women, whether it is helping them as they give birth to their child in pregnancy centers across the state, you have been part of this as much as every single legislator here, and for that we are very grateful. We are blessed to be Floridians, because behind me stands the most pro-life governor in America.”
Sprowls continued, saying that just the signing of HB 5 would have been enough, but the championship performed through the fatherhood legislation being signed was further proof of the state’s commitment to protecting children and providing for those in need.
Lakeland Sen. Kelli Stargel spoke next. Stargel was the main sponsor of the bill in the Florida Senate. She praised the legislative session of 2022.
“When I ran for office, this was something, I never dreamed of a day where Roe v. Wade may be overturned,” Stargel said, referring to cases going through the U.S. Supreme Court. “And that we’re protecting the life of every single baby has 15 weeks of gestation, and hopefully in the future we’ll have no abortions. My story was an unexpected pregnancy, as the psalm says there is no pregnancy that is unplanned, God had a plan for every child that he allowed to be conceived. What we as a society need to do is surround those families and surround those children and make sure that everyone of those children gets to meet the maximum of their potential.”
Stargel then praised her daughter, a soldier who “took down terrorists” and questioned what could happen if those potentials had not been allowed to happen.
More state representatives spoke, before the podium was yielded to pro-life advocates who supported the bill. After advocates spoke, Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Simone Marstiller, took the stage.
“Courage, that’s exactly what it takes for any woman, young, teenager, 20s, 30s, whatever, who finds herself at a crossroads, and has to make the toughest decision of her life. I’ve been there. I was 19 years old. I had started college at 16, I was on my way to graduating before my 21st birthday. Really enjoyed college, as you can imagine. Fell pregnant at 19, and went to a physician to confirm that,” Marstiller said. “I’m not going to go into the details, but suffice it to say, but because of how I looked, certain assumptions were made and I was handed a referral for abortion. I didn’t get a conversation, or counseling about prenatal care. Assumptions were made. I think it’s fair to say, almost on the strength of that, but I talked to my mother about it, but I decided no, not gonna go that way. Kept my baby. For those that are mothers in the room, I enjoyed being pregnant, I enjoyed getting stretch marks, I loved it. I don’t like them too much now, but I liked them then. And when that yelling screaming baby was born and they laid her on my chest and she fell immediately silent, I knew I had done the right thing.”
Marstiller said after, she went to law school, lost her home on foreclosure but overcame it “thanks to the good lord above,” and praised the fact that she works for Gov. DeSantis.
“If the only reason, the only purpose I have on this earth is to be the vessel for the child that came through to serve her purpose, then I am more than happy to serve my purpose in life,” Marstiller said. “I hope, and I assume, that there is at least someone listening to my voice who will be encouraged by my story, by the story you just heard. Don’t listen to the narrative that people are trying to push on you, you’re young, you need to do this, your life will be ruined. That is not the case.”
She urged listeners to choose life and that all will be well. Soon after, DeSantis took the podium again to sign HB 5 into law.
Ahead of the event, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) sent a statement critical of what signing the bill meant for the future.
“Today is a solemn, dark day for women’s rights in Florida. Governor DeSantis has chosen to sign into law an unprecedented, unconstitutional attack on women that violates Roe v. Wade and endangers reproductive freedom across our nation,” Crist said in a statement. “Women deserve the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Period. As governor, I would veto this bill and any attempt to restrict a woman’s right to choose.”