Florida legislator imports Texas abortion ban

Texas' draconian abortion ban is headed to Florida. 

On Wednesday, Florida Representative Webster Barnaby (R), introduced legislation that tracks Texas' new law banning nearly all abortions. Like the Texas law, Barnaby's bill would ban all abortions after a "fetal heartbeat" is detected. That occurs about six weeks into pregnancy — before many women know they are pregnant. Barnaby's abortion ban, like Texas' law, would only be enforceable by private citizens, who can collect a $10,000 bounty by filing a lawsuit. Abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman receive an abortion after six weeks could be sued. And like the Texas law, Barnaby's bill contains no exception for rape or incest. 

The notion of a "fetal heartbeat," defined in the bill as "cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac," is itself controversial. An ultrasound can detect some activity at about six weeks of gestation. But "flickering that we're seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you 'hear' is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine," Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explained. The sound does not "indicate the viability of a pregnancy." 

Nevertheless, Barnaby's bill has strong prospects in Florida. Earlier this month Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (R) said the Florida Senate would consider a bill modeled after Texas' law in the upcoming legislative session. "When the Supreme Court goes out and makes a decision like this, it clearly is going to send a signal to all the states that are interested in banning abortions or making it more restrictive to have an abortion," Simpson said. Simpson did express some reservations, however, about the bounty system. The bounties are the only real distinguishing feature of the Texas ban, however. 

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprows (R) was less specific but said he considered himself "a national leader in developing pro-life legislation" and would support "a bill that saves every unborn life possible" as long as it could also withstand "judicial scrutiny." 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) also signaled he was open to an abortion ban modeled after the Texas law. "We'll have to look, I'm going to look more significantly at it... I've always been somebody that really does support protections for life," DeSantis said on September 2. 

Nikki Fried (D), the Florida Agriculture Commissioner who is running for governor, was less enthusiastic. "This bill is dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional. The hypocrisy of this attempt by Governor (Ron) DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature to take away our rights while at the same time preaching ’my body, my choice’ when it comes to wearing masks is absolutely disgusting," Fried said.

Florida legislative committees are beginning to meet this week in preparation for the 2022 legislative session, which begins January 11, 2022.

Who is Webster Barnaby? 

Barnaby is a freshman member with a thin legislative record. Prior to introducing the abortion bill on Wednesday, he was best known for speaking at three Trump rallies during the 2020 campaign. 

In October, Barnaby gave a remarkable invocation at Trump's first campaign after recovering from COVID:

I thank God that Donald Trump has been raised again, and been given an extension of life. So Father tonight we thank you that you've healed our land. You've removed the plague of corona in the name of Jesus. Tonight you will see evidence of a strong man, Donald J. Trump, a man that's recovered… Remove fear from this nation in the mighty name of Jesus.

In November, Barnaby won and Trump lost. During his first legislative session, Barnaby's most notable legislation would have granted "a speaker two minutes for public remarks over a loudspeaker before a high school championship game." He proposed the legislation "after the Florida High School Athletic Association prohibited the Cambridge Christian School of Tampa from offering a prayer over the public-address system before a football championship game at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium in 2016, sparking an ongoing legal battle." Under the bill, athletic associations would be "barred from controlling the school’s remarks or choice of speaker." The bill passed the Florida House but was not approved by the Senate. 

Comcast bankrolls Barnaby and other anti-abortion legislators in Florida

A review of Florida campaign finance filings reveals that prominent corporations have donated to Barnaby since 2019, including NBCUniversal and its parent company Comcast.

In 2019, when Georgia attempted to implement a six-week abortion ban, NBCUniversal signaled that it would reconsider producing content in Georgia if the law went into effect. "If any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future,” the company said at the time. The bill was ultimately blocked by a federal judge.

NBCUniversal has stayed silent about the Texas abortion ban. In 2020, Comcast and NBCUniversal donated $2,000 to Barnaby. In the 2020 cycle, Comcast donated $225,000 to anti-abortion legislators in Florida, according to a recent Popular Information investigation

Other corporate donors to Barnaby include Duke Energy ($1,000), Greenberg Traurig ($1,000), NextEra Energy ($2,000), McGuireWoods ($500), and StateFarm ($500). None of these companies responded to Popular Information’s requests for comment.