Florida Enacts ‘Heartbeat Protection Act,’ Reaffirming Life Issue’s Popular Appeal
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on Thursday approved Florida SB 300, the “Heartbeat Protection Act,” which in most cases protects the life of unborn babies after six weeks of pregnancy, after both chambers of the legislature passed it by a wide margin. Florida law previously protected unborn life after 15 weeks. The bill marks substantial progress toward protecting unborn life in one of the nation’s largest states, even as the national media tries to frame a narrative that pro-life policies are political losers.
In addition to protecting life after six weeks gestation, SB 300, which passed the Senate (26-13) on April 3 and the House (70-40) on April 13, expands “pregnancy support services” to pregnancy resource centers to also include parenting support, including “nonmedical material assistance” such as “clothing, car seats, cribs, formula, and diapers,” as well as “counseling or mentoring, education materials, and classes regarding pregnancy, parenting, adoption, life skills, and employment readiness.” It authorized an annually recurring $25 million for this purpose.
Florida law now provides abortion exceptions for the life or serious physical impairment of the mother, fatal fetal anomalies before the third trimester, and for rape, incest, and human trafficking before 15 weeks’ gestation (this last exception was added by SB 300). While logically and morally inconsistent with the goal of protecting unborn life, such exceptions represent a miniscule fraction of abortions but substantially broaden political support for pro-life measures. A law protecting unborn life after six weeks with exceptions will save more babies than a law protecting unborn life after 15 weeks or 20 weeks, or none at all.
The Heartbeat Protection Act also prohibits abortion-by-mail and state-funded travel for abortions in another state.
Early-term protection for unborn babies, such as six-week heartbeat bills, were made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision last year overturning Roe v. Wade; during the 49-year Roe era, courts would simply strike down any state laws that aimed to protect early-term, unborn babies.
When Roe was overturned, many of the pro-life policies conservatives had long promoted suddenly became possible. Yet, at the same time, many Republicans instantly became too scared to talk about the life issue, and the media was only too happy to give them a reason.
The prevailing media narrative about the 2022 midterm election is that Republicans had a disappointing night, only barely taking back the House and missing almost every opportunity to pick up competitive seats. Aside from Florida and New York, the theory, up to that point, is fairly accurate. But the media builds on this narrative to argue that one of the main reasons why Republicans lost is because of abortion, with the obvious insinuation that Republicans should simply give up on the issue if they want to win future elections.
But is this really true? Is protecting babies in the womb a political loser?
Not in Florida. In April 2022, shortly before Roe was overturned, the Florida legislature passed a bill, signed by DeSantis, protecting unborn babies after 15 weeks’ gestation. Then in November, after Roe’s downfall, Florida voters handed Republicans a legislative supermajority and reelected the governor in a landslide. Having experienced the DeSantis administration and Republicans rule the state for four years, Florida voters — including many independents and Democrats — responded with an emphatic verdict: please give us more of this. During his 2018 campaign, DeSantis had pledged support for a heartbeat bill. Now that Roe is out of the way, that campaign promise has become a reality.
Not only in Florida. In the 2022 election, 11 governors who had signed laws to protect the unborn sought reelection. (For perspective, in 36 state gubernatorial elections, 28 incumbent governors sought reelection, including 15 Republicans.)
- Governor Kay Ivey (R-Ala.) signed a life at conception bill in 2019.
- Governors Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) in 2019, Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) in 2018, Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) in 2019, Henry McMaster (R-S.C.) in 2021, and Bill Lee (R-Tenn.) in 2020 signed heartbeat bills.
- Governors Brad Little (R-Idaho) in 2021-2022, Kevin Stitt (R-Okla.) in 2021-2022, and Greg Abbott (R-Texas) in 2021 signed both a heartbeat bill and a life at conception bill.
- Governor DeSantis (R-Fla.) signed a 15-week limit in 2022.
- Governor Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) signed a viability limit in 2022.
In fact, only four Republican incumbents who sought reelection in 2022 have not signed pro-life legislation: Governors Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Phil Scott (R-Ver.), and Mark Gordon (R-Wyo.).
All 11 governors to sign pro-life laws were re-elected by wide margins. The closest contest was in Georgia, a top Democratic target, where Kemp led Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by 9.5% of the vote, in a lopsided rematch of the 2018 contest, which he won by a narrow 1.4%. Kemp in Georgia and DeWine in Ohio also ran far ahead of the GOP candidates in those states’ hotly contested Senate races, both political newcomers. Kemp gained 5% more of the total vote than Herschel Walker, who trailed in the general election and then lost the run-off; DeWine gained 9.5% more of the total vote than J.D. Vance, who narrowly won.
The victorious pro-life governors hail from nearly every corner of the country — from New England to the South, from the West to the Midwest.
Not in Congress, either. Republicans’ lead on the generic congressional ballot slowly dwindled in July and August of 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of polls. In fact, Democrats held a brief advantage in early September, only weeks away from the start of early voting. The turning point came on September 13, when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a bill to protect unborn children after 15 weeks’ gestation, FRC Action Vice President Brent Keilen told The Washington Stand. “When the GOP started going on the offense on the life issue, it also saw a surge in support in the polls,” Keilen explained. “It changed the national conversation.” Over the next two months, Republicans surged in the polls; on Election Day, the RCP average saw Republicans leading by 2.5%.
“Republicans have owned this issue for almost four decades,” said FRC President Tony Perkins on Newsmax. “And they just need to continue doing what led us to this point: talking about the humanity of the unborn, the benefit of the mothers.”
In May 2022, shortly before the Dobbs ruling, an FRC Action-commissioned poll asked 1,000 registered voters, “Do you support or oppose protecting unborn children when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy?” Forty-seven percent supported protecting unborn children, while only 33% opposed it. The media has touted polls that frame the issue as “banning abortion” or similarly slanted language. But, when pro-life policies are presented for what they actually do — protect unborn life — they enjoy broad support.
One explanation for the life issue’s apparent liability in the 2022 midterm election is that Republicans hardly talked about it. While Democrats spent nearly $358 million in abortion-related ads across House, Senate, and governors’ races, Republicans spent only about $37 million. In other words, Democrats spent nearly $10 promoting abortion to every one dollar Republicans spent highlighting the life of the unborn.
The same discrepancy resurfaced in a recent race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, where pro-abortion Janet Protasiewicz trounced a conservative opponent by 11 points. According to Politico, “Abortion was mentioned in roughly a third of television ads coming from Protasiewicz’s campaign and other allied groups, according to data from the ad tracking service AdImpact. It was virtually non-existent in ads from the other side, appearing in just 1 percent of ads.”
“If you’re in a debate, and you keep your mouth shut, guess what? You don’t win,” said Perkins. Keilen agreed, “If conservative candidates are silent, that allows the other side to define the terms and control the entire debate. That is a losing strategy. Conservatives should be clear about their pro-life positions and why they think it’s important to protect both mother and unborn child.”
It turns out that pro-lifers do have something worth saying on the topic of abortion. “The other side is literally pushing for elective abortion for any reason up until the moment of birth and paid for by taxpayers,” said Keilen. “That is a truly radical position that is opposed by 80% of the country.”
“What’s extreme is refusing to draw any line on abortion and being willing to abort a baby up until the moment of birth. That’s what’s extreme. And that’s the position of this administration and the Democratic party,” said Perkins. Far from staking out an extreme position, he continued, DeSantis is “doing this the right way. He’s having a conversation. about protecting unborn children. It’s not about abortion. It’s about protecting unborn children.”
That’s the (widely popular) truth. And that’s why the media wants to bully politicians who defend unborn life into silence.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.