TALLAHASSEE — Florida House members early Thursday morning passed a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, one of the most hotly debated issues of the 2022 legislative session.

The Republican-dominated House approved the measure (HB 5) in a 78-39 vote along almost straight party lines after nearly six hours of debate.

Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, crossed party lines to vote against the measure, while Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, voted for it.

The at-times tense floor session also saw a group of protesters removed from the House gallery for chanting in opposition to the bill.

The proposed 15-week limit on abortions resembles a Mississippi law that is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court — a case that is widely seen as a challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion rights.

Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican who is sponsoring the House bill, said Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s weighing of the Mississippi law was a factor in the decision to propose the 15-week restriction.

“There’s significant fetal development by the age of 15 weeks. But there is also a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, currently under consideration, at 15 weeks. And … working within that infrastructure of 15 weeks gives Florida its best opportunity to save a significant number of babies, very quickly, after the court’s decision,” Grall said.

Part of the debate on the bill Wednesday centered on arguments about stages of fetal development.

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, disagreed with Republicans’ arguments that fetuses can feel pain at 15 weeks.

“I don’t believe a 15-week fetus can feel pain or anything else, because I believe the volume of experts who tell us that happens beyond 24 weeks gestation,” Skidmore said.

Several House Democrats also criticized the measure as unconstitutional.

“Every time unconstitutional bans are passed, they have been challenged in the courts. Legislating unpopular and unconstitutional bans on abortion is an irresponsible diversion from real life,” Rep. Yvonne Hinson, D-Gainesville, said. “Because real life is reality, not some figment of your imagination of what perfect life might look like.”

But Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, urged lawmakers to vote for the measure regardless of the unresolved U.S. Supreme Court case.

“We have the ability. We do not have to wait for the (U.S. Supreme) Court to decide and rule. When they do, we will be in a position to protect life in Florida, as guaranteed and enshrined in our Constitution,” Byrd said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last month said that he is “supportive of 15 weeks” and suggested that he would sign the measure if lawmakers pass it, adding that he finds the restriction “reasonable.”

The bill would allow for exceptions if two doctors certify in writing that a fetus has what the proposal calls a “fatal fetal abnormality.”

Such abnormalities are defined in the legislation as “a terminal condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb and will result in death upon birth or imminently thereafter.”

But critics slammed the measure for not making an exception for victims of rape or incest.

House members on Tuesday rejected more than a dozen proposed changes filed by Democrats, including one that would have made an exception for victims of rape or incest.

Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, criticized Republicans for not accepting Democrats’ proposed changes, saying that she is a victim of rape.

“We heard that an exception for an abortion wasn’t needed for rape or incest because of the low amount of abortions that were performed on those that were victims,” Arrington said. “I know that the number of 126 abortions performed due to rape or incest in 2021 isn’t accurate, because victims aren’t honest about being raped. Because of the shame and the stigmatism that surrounds it. When we pass legislation like this, it validates that perception.”

But Rep. Dana Trabulsy, R-Fort Pierce, shared with her colleagues that she is a victim of rape and had an abortion in the past.

“I was always pro-life, until I had a choice. And then I had a choice, and I selfishly made the choice to have an abortion. Not because something was wrong with my baby, not for any other reason than it just wasn’t convenient for me. It didn’t fit my narrative, it didn’t fit my lifestyle. I didn’t want a baby, so I had an abortion. It’s something that I have regretted every day since,” Trabulsy said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee likely will take up the House bill Monday, according to a Senate calendar. Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has sponsored a Senate version (SB 146) of the bill.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter for News Service of Florida