Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Florida Legislators Try Step-By-Step Criminalization Of Abortion, Stifle Opposing Views

It's no secret that conservatives have a thing for abortion, or should I say thing for imposing their religious beliefs on everyone else. Floridian conservatives are no exception. All branches of the state government are controlled by Republicans and since the tea party helped Republicans clinch elections last year, the state's conservative legislators have made an unprecedented assault on reproductive rights. As the Orlando Weekly pointed out a couple of weeks ago, there are eighteen bills in the House and Senate that target reproductive rights.

Billy Manes summed them all up (my opinions will be colored in either green (for) or red (against), along with a brief explanation):
HB 97/SB 1414 - Health Insurance - Against

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and State Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, are attempting to make clear that there's absolutely no gray area on an issue where the gray area has already been taken care of. These conjoined bills basically restate the Hyde Amendment, a federal legislative provision barring public funding for abortion procedures, but do so by attaching a caveat that no insurance plans resulting from the insurance exchanges created by the federal Affordable Care Act will cover elective abortions. The trouble is in the fine print: cases of rape, incest or life-threatening conditions for the mother may be exempt, but make no mistake - the bill is an attempt to codify limits on abortion by not including non-life-threatening cases for the mother or fetal injury. If there were any doubt of its intent, just ask the bill's author. "Today we struck a blow for the pro-life movement," Gaetz cheered when the bill passed through a committee on March 16, according to The Florida Independent.

For the reasons stated above I disagree with this legislation. While abortion is legal, legislators are attempting a backdoor criminalization of abortion as a means to advance their religious agenda and the victims are the women who do fall under the "gray area" classification.

HJR 1179/SJR 1538 - Abortion/Public Funding/Construction of Rights - Against

As if to further the same argument, only on a constitutional level, State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, are seeking to place an amendment on next November's ballot forbidding any public funding of abortion "except as required by federal law to save the life of the mother." Even if the federal law were to be interpreted to allow abortion coverage in cases or rape or incest - as the Hyde Amendment does - this constitutional amendment would supercede that federal law, meaning that in addition to further restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion, any public employee with a state insurance plan will have no option for abortion coverage. The state is reducing your federal rights.

While we are at it, any person who claims a medical expense on their tax return should be barred abortion coverage, because after all, that money may or may not end up in the coffers of an abortion mill - this being the argument conservatives have against Planned Parenthood, so why not just expand it to cover everything.

HB 1397/SB1748 - Abortions - Against

While the rest of the state undoes its belt and enjoys the fruits of Gov. Rick Scott's deregulation manifesto, State Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, and State Sen. Flores have set forth a complicated rubric for abortion providers that surpasses standard reasoning. Planned Parenthood is calling the bill Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or "TRAP." Clinics must advertise that they can't perform third-trimester abortions, practicing physicians will be required to attend three-hour ethics classes and improper disposal of "fetal remains" is a first-degree misdemeanor (up from second degree). The bill goes on to expressly forbid doctors from telling a pregnant patient not to take certain medication, as it might cause a miscarriage, because said patient could then take that medication and have a miscarriage - and it would be the doctor's fault. Also, all abortions performed would have to be reported to the governor and the leader of each legislative body.

During the countless debates and media coverage regarding the health reform bill, we heard numerous conservatives cry about government "death panels," but because this is an issue close to Republican hearts, government injecting itself in between a doctor and a patient is okay.

HB 1127/SB 1744 - Abortions - Against

Even though this exact legislation was vetoed last year by political balance-beam walker Charlie Crist, State Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, and State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, are once again trying to force women in their first trimester (or any trimester) to view an ultrasound of their fetuses prior to an abortion procedure, or at least sign a waiver saying that they refuse to look at it. What's more, the ultrasound must be performed by the same doctor who will perform the abortion and said doctor is required to explain the various stages of fetal development to the woman in detail. None of this is free, mind.

Again, this is another Republican "death panel," and mind you this one isn't free - all the costs will become the financial burden on the patient, and seeing conservatives want to restrict insurance coverage for abortions, all this will undoubtedly become out-of-pocket expenses for the patient, which conservatives probably intended to act as a disincentive. This bill also fails to consider the emotional trauma one may feel from the abortion process - especially if they are a victim of rape or incest - and while the bill excludes rape or incest victims from being required to see the ultrasound, the patient would still have to prove they are a victim. Should they be the ones put on trial?

HB 1247/SB 1770 - 
Parental Notice of Abortion - For

Again, this law already exists, except State Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, don't think its limitations are strong enough. Florida already requires a 48-hour waiting period for parental notification in the case of minors attempting to get abortions, but this bill gives the court three days (up from two) to deliberate on whether to afford a minor a waiver to proceed with her abortion without going through the motions. The "overall intelligence" and "ability to accept responsibility" of the minor will be determined by the court, worryingly.

I see nothing wrong with extending the waiting period. Although I discourage court interventions in favor of parental consideration - I think that there should be additional time given to encourage parental involvement.

HB 321/SB 1948 - 
"Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" - Against

Florida wants to be just like Nebraska, where fetuses beyond 20 weeks of gestation are considered capable of feeling pain, and therefore unlawful to abort. State Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, has teamed up with State Sen. Storms to make Florida hurt, too. Here's the clincher: Written into the proposed law are possible procedures for patients to take the abortion doctors to court for civil damages, procedures that include clearing the courtroom for the sake of anonymity of the "victim" (the prospective mother). Ergo, abortion doctors are criminals. The deeper implication is that Florida women, like Danielle Deaver of Nebraska who recently found out that her fetus was not viable at 22 weeks and still had to carry it to natural birth, will be similarly, mortifyingly stuck.

The case of Danielle Deaver is exactly the reason this law is bad - this law is yet another instance of the government determining the necessity of medical procedures.

HB 501/SB 196 - Choose Life License Plates - For

A disturbing red herring, this one. Since Florida became the first of 26 states to approve specialty Choose Life license plates in 1999 - raising more than $12 million for the truth-challenged realm of crisis pregnancy centers in Florida - the money has been circulated through county offices. This bill, spearheaded by State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, would instead push the revenues through a single company, Choose Life Inc., a vague Ocala nonprofit 
that, according to tax records, handled only 
$12,000 in revenues in 2009. Fasano's apparent intent was to remove the 70-30 percent cap from the statute (30 percent was previously marked for adoption-related counseling, advertising and marketing) so that more pregnant women could be assisted - or so there would be fewer limits on how the money could be spent. We'll see if legislators actually listened, or if the money will go to expanding the Choose Life campaign nationwide.

I have no problem with these license plates, but I think there should be a restriction - funds raised through the program cannot go towards religious organizations or organizations that espouse a religious-inspired pro-life message.

HB 747/SB 1760 - Infants Born Alive - For/Against

A reactionary - and repeat - effort to ensure that fetuses (or "babies") that survive abortion procedures are properly cared for by health care professionals. State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and State Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, are pushing the plan following headlines of botched abortions in Pennsylvania and Hialeah.

I think as long as this law applies to fetuses that survive an abortion procedure and are born. I do not think this bill should apply should a fetus survive an abortion procedure but its survival would depend care from health care professionals - again, this would be placing the government in between the medical decisions of the doctor and patient and would force a particular ideology (and new, ongoing trauma) on the patient.

SB 1094 - 
Offenses Against Unborn Children - Against

Without a matching House component, this Fasano bill does little more than raise the heat on an already tempestuous issue: fetal personhood. Under the bill, Fasano would like to see the already offensive "viable fetus" terminology utilized in accepted Florida vehicular homicide statutes altered to read to "unborn child." It may have no legislative bearing, but its point is clear: Women matter less than the fetuses they carry.

I see no need in reclassifying a "viable fetus" as an "unborn child."

HB 415 - Abortion - Against

It wouldn't be a legislative session without the cosmic reappearance of grandstanding State Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, and his epic omnibus attempt to make Florida the leader in the unavoidable federal lawsuit to overturn Roe v. Wade. In 54 lengthy pages, Van Zant makes his futile case, steamrolling over statutes with wild-eyed abandon. It's the inevitable Hail Mary of every spring in Tallahassee, the statement of all statements. Thankfully, it hasn't received enough traction to become a logical reality. At least not yet.
If that's not enough, Republican leadership are now trying to stifle debate on the matter as demonstrated by actions by the Speaker of the Florida House, Dean Cannon, where Cannon warned Rep. Scott Randolph for using the word "uterus" on the House floor.

Randolph responded to constituents in an email:

"This is especially outrageous considering that this year alone, the Florida House has proposed 18 anti-choice bills," wrote Randolph.  "Speaker Cannon wants to restrict what women can do with their bodies, but he doesn't want to talk about it."

Subsequently, Randolph created a petition so that Floridians can let Speaker Cannon know that "uterus" is not a dirty word.

You can sign the petition here.

On top of that, Republicans are now trying to claim a Democratic lawmaker's "Birth Control Matters Day" is too controversial to even recognize.  Rep. Evan Jenne of Dania Beach proposed the House resolution to acknowledge the importance birth control holds and how it can contribute to reducing Medicaid costs.  Republican Rep. Gary Aubuchon of Cape Coral, who serves as rules chairman, rejected the language, with his staff stating resolutions "should not contain controversial policy statements."

This is interesting considering Aubuchon voted for pretty much every anti-abortion measure including the one requiring women to pay for ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion, and if you ask me, that bill was extremely controversial.  That law also prohibits the federal government from compelling a person to purchase health insurance - the authority to make such decisions the state government lacks - and restricts women and small businesses who receive tax credits from purchasing health insurance.

Because of Florida's gerrymandered districts granting Republicans complete control over government, including a tea party-backed governor to rubber stamp any and all right-wing initiative, Florida will surely experience more assaults on not only woment, but on established law and the separation of church and state.

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