Florida’s own abor­tion de­bate

GOP looks to chip away at Roe v. Wade, Dems are ready for a fight

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Front Page - By Skyler Swisher

As anti-abor­tion laws spread across Amer­ica, Florida’s de­bate is heat­ing up as the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture looks to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the law of the land for al­most 50 years.

Florida leg­is­la­tors in­tro­duced at least four bills this year to re­strict abor­tions, although none passed amid con­cerns they could an­tag­o­nize a seg­ment of the elec­torate with Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­elec­tion cam­paign just get­ting started.

Both sides are gear­ing up for a clash next year.

“None of them passed, but it wasn’t for a lack of try­ing,” said Laura Good­hue, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Florida Al­liance of Planned Par­ent­hood Af­fil­i­ates. “I an­tic­i­pate they’ll be back in Florida with the same bills. The fight isn’t over. It has just be­gun.”

Neigh­bor­ing states passed far­reach­ing abor­tion bans this year that could pave the way for Florida and other Repub­li­can-con­trolled states to im­pose new re­stric­tions on abor­tion.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a near-to­tal abor­tion ban that doesn’t in­clude ex­cep­tions for rape or in­cest. Doc­tors who vi­o­late the ban could face up to 99 years in prison. Law­mak­ers in Ge­or­gia, Mis­sis­sippi, Ken­tucky and Ohio passed bills that pro­hibit most abor­tions af­ter a fe­tal heart­beat is de­tected, which can be as early as six weeks.

Florida law­mak­ers took up a bill that would have banned most

abor­tions af­ter a fe­tal heart­beat is de­tected, which can be as early as six weeks. An­other mea­sure would have re­quired mi­nors ob­tain parental con­sent to have an abor­tion.

Alabama’s law seeks to chal­lenge the land­mark Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion that es­tab­lished a con­sti­tu­tional right to abor­tion. With re­cent ap­point­ments, both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court have be­come more con­ser­va­tive. Repub­li­can Florida Gov. Ron De­San­tis ap­pointed three con­ser­va­tive-leaning jus­tices, while Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­pointed jus­tices Neil Gor­such and Bret Ka­vanaugh.

Dur­ing the GOP pri­mary, De­San­tis in­di­cated he would sign a fe­tal heart­beat bill if it landed on his desk.

Florida’s heart­beat bill didn’t get a hear­ing. The parental con­sent bill for a mi­nor to have an abor­tion passed the House but didn’t get a vote on the Sen­ate floor.

Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pen­sacola, spon­sored the heart­beat bill in the House. He said lead­er­ship didn’t view abor­tion as a leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity this ses­sion, and they wanted abor­tion bills to have fe­male sponsors.

Had the heart­beat bill made it to a floor vote, Hill thinks it prob­a­bly would have passed.

“I don’t un­der­stand how life can­not be a pri­or­ity,” Hill said. “I don’t let dis­ap­point­ment turn into dis­cour­age­ment. You tighten up your belt and get ready for the next round.”

As the leg­isla­tive ses­sion started, Repub­li­can House Speaker José Oliva faced crit­i­cism for us­ing the term “host body” dur­ing an interview with CBS Mi­ami when re­fer­ring to women. Oliva later apol­o­gized, say­ing he was us­ing a med­i­cal term and didn’t mean to cause of­fense.

Su­san MacManus, a long­time Florida-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, said Repub­li­cans likely wanted to fo­cus on is­sues that would res­onate with a wider group of Florid­i­ans, such as trans­porta­tion, the en­vi­ron­ment and ed­u­ca­tion.

Sub­ur­ban women will play a key role in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, she said.

“This was not an is­sue Repub­li­cans wanted to el­e­vate to the top of the list,” MacManus said. “There was aware­ness that sub­ur­ban women could be flipped over to Democrats on this is­sue.”

The heart­beat bill also would have had to clear com­mit­tees chaired by women and com­posed of a large num­ber of law­mak­ers from sub­ur­ban and ur­ban dis­tricts. MacManus said she doubts a bill as re­stric­tive as Alabama’s would ever pass in Florida.

While Florida is con­trolled by Repub­li­cans, polls show that Florid­i­ans aren’t as con­ser­va­tive on so­cial is­sues as other south­ern states that are in the Bi­ble Belt, said Aubrey Jewett, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida.

“It clearly was not a high pri­or­ity for a num­ber of Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly in the Sen­ate,” he said.

Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Bill Gal­vano, R-Braden­ton, sup­ports re­quir­ing parental con­sent for abor­tions and would “eval­u­ate” a fe­tal heart­beat bill next ses­sion, said Katie Betta, a spokes­woman.

About 56 per­cent of Florid­i­ans think abor­tion should be le­gal in most if not all cases, a higher per­cent­age than other South­east­ern states, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 poll by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter.

A bill re­quir­ing mi­nors to ob­tain parental con­sent to have an abor­tion ad­vanced the far­thest in the Leg­is­la­ture this ses­sion. The state Supreme Court struck down a sim­i­lar law 30 years ago as un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Florida vot­ers backed a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment in 2004 that re­quired par­ents to be no­ti­fied if their chil­dren seek an abor­tion.

Even though the fe­tal heart­beat bill did not ad­vance, it sparked bois­ter­ous protests in the Capi­tol. As sup­port­ers of the bill con­ducted a news con­fer­ence, protesters held signs that read, “This bill op­presses women.”

Democrats are vow­ing to con­tinue fighting ef­forts to bar ac­cess to abor­tions. Sen. Lau­ren Book, D-Plan­ta­tion, is­sued a state­ment blast­ing Alabama for “wag­ing a war on women.” Book, a child­hood vic­tim of sex­ual abuse, wants to amend Florida’s Constituti­on to re­quire that at least 50 per­cent of rep­re­sen­ta­tives vot­ing be fe­male for any bill re­strict­ing abor­tion ac­cess.

Sen. Den­nis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he thinks if con­ser­va­tive courts up­hold abor­tion laws passed in other states that will boost ef­forts to im­pose new re­stric­tions in Florida.

“Our pro-life com­mu­nity is frus­trated,” said Baxley, who spon­sored the heart­beat bill in the Sen­ate. “It is dis­cour­ag­ing when we are un­der Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, and we still can’t get a pol­icy shift here.”

SKYLER SWISHER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

Protesters demon­strate at the Florida Capi­tol against a bill that would have banned most abor­tions af­ter a fe­tal heart­beat is de­tected.

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