Debate over abortion reignited

Jan 27, 2012

Several bills related to the reproductive rights of women are making their way through the House. Regan McCarthy reports one is a resolution declaring this week “Reproductive Rights Awareness week,” three would put more rules in place for when, where and why an abortion can be performed.

Florida lawmakers are once again pursing legislation to put more limitations the ability of women to terminate their pregnancies. A measure sponsored by Representative Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, would make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion because of the sex or race of a fetus.

“This is more about discrimination than abortion, and that’s what I believe. Its surrounded by the abortion process, but it’s really about us being consistent in how we enforce discrimination in this country.”

Plakon’s bill, House Bill 1327, would be named the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity for Life Act. Representative Mark Pafford a Democrat from West Palm Beach says he finds the bill to be misleading.

“I appreciate bill that are just straight up trying to stand in the way of a woman’s ability to seek healthcare or get an abortion. I actually appreciate those. This is perhaps one of the most disingenuous bills I’ve ever seen. I think it games this body. I don’t frankly appreciate the fact that you say this is about discrimination when the direct impact is on a woman’s ability to get healthcare of get an abortion.”

Representative Lori Berman a Democrat from Delray Beach echoes that saying the bill is “Posing as a defender of gender equity and racial justice.”

“In fact, it’s actually the opposite. It requires intensive scrutiny for the reason for an abortion and it questions women’s decision making, but it doesn’t address the issue of discrimination.”

And Berman questions the need for the bill.

“There’s no empirical evidence that this is happening in the United States, in fact, when we talk about the numbers, the vast majority of abortions happen even before sex is determined.”

But Plakon says a study by the Department of Economics at Columbia University shows it is an issue.

“Based on the 2000 census, where they concluded in certain ethnic populations that on the third child, here’s a fact, and I know facts are difficult sometimes, but there’s 1.5 males born to every female. So I don’t know how you could be more clear that this is happening at least in this country.”

Two other bills discussed would limit the time frame in which an abortion can be performed. Republican Representative Daniel Davis of Jacksonville is pursuing legislation that would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion if a fetus is more than 20 weeks old.

“There’s an overwhelming body of evidence that prost fertilized, 5-month, un-born baby can feel pain and it’s our job to keep them from suffering.”

Davis’s bill, House bill 0823, makes exceptions for mothers whose lives would otherwise be threatened, but does not currently make exceptions for instances of rape or incest. Again Representative Berman raised concerns about such a bill. Representative Lori Berman says she worries the bill could force a woman to continue carrying an unviable fetus. She talks about a case in Nebraska where a similar measure is in effect….

“There was a 34-year-old woman whose water broke at week 22. Her fetus would not develop lungs and would die at birth. The doctors could not perform an abortion because of this law. She had to give birth to this child and then watch for 15-minutes while the baby died. I don’t want that to happen here in Florida.”

Several lawmakers also raised questions about the proposal’s constitutionality.

A bill brought forward by Riverview Republican Representative Rachel Burgin serves a similar purpose. Burgin’s bill, House Bill 277, would prohibit an abortion once the fetus reaches viability except in special cases. And would require any late-term abortions that are performed to be done in a hospital by a physician with special training. All three bills passed through the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee.