Lawmakers OK 'Grieving Families' Bill, But Pro-Choice Groups Still Wary
Florida lawmakers want to issue special certificates to families who experience miscarriages. Supporters say the bill is meant to comfort grieving parents. But there are concerns the bill could affect access to abortions.
Altamonte Springs Republican Representative Bob Cortes wants to help parents mourn their miscarriages.
“For those of us who have lost a child, it is the most painful thing you can ever imagine. And for those of you who do have a child, hug them tight and tell them you love them,” Cortes said.
He wants the Department of Health to issue certificates of nonviable birth to families who experience a miscarriage in the first 9 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. But only if parents want it, says Jacksonville Republican Senator Aaron Bean.
“It’s not meant to be controversial. And I would invite all groups to look at the bill again if there’s angst. There wasn’t meant to be. Having met with families it’s just an option we wanted to make available,” Bean said.
"For those of us who have lost a child, it is the most painful thing you can ever imagine."
A certified nurse midwife I spoke with said getting a certificate like this would be concrete evidence of the loss. She could see how that would be comforting.
But there are concerns about the intent of the bill. Some pro-choice groups worry it could reshape legal and cultural norms around fetuses. And Mary Ziegler at Florida State University's College of Law says there's something to that argument.
“So I think in the short term there’s not really much concern, or not much weight to the concerns that opponents to the bill have raised. But long term there probably is,” Ziegler said.
To be clear, Cortes says his bill isn’t about abortion, it’s about unintentional miscarriages.
“This bill is simply about parents who lose their child. Who want to memorialize them if they so wish. Simply put. Nothing more, nothing less,” Cortes said.
And Mary Ziegler says that’s accurate. But she also says skeptics should be concerned.
“Both sides are right. The sponsors of the bill saying there’s no actual direct conflict with abortion laws are telling the truth. There isn’t. But it’s part of a kind of incremental strategy to establish fetal rights that in the long-term could pose a threat to legal abortion,” Ziegler said.
"The more people believe that an unborn child is a person... the less cultural support there would be for an abortion right."
Ziegler says the bill is not an attack on Roe versus Wade. But she says it is strategic.
“So the more people believe that an unborn child is a person the same way that a child would be at 1 or 2 or 3 years old, the less cultural support there would be for an abortion right,” Ziegler said.
Plantation Democratic Senator Lauren Book took to the floor Thursday to say the bill isn’t about fetal rights.
“This has nothing to do with personhood. It rather gives families that are grieving during a very difficult time some closure,” Book said.
But Ziegler says down the road, the courts could use this kind of language as legal precedent.
“There’s a long history of fetal homicide laws, wrongful death laws…other things that treat an unborn child as a person with rights outside of the abortion context," Ziegler said. "Those things from the long historical view have made a difference to how the courts view fetal life in general.”
Cortes says he is looking to set a new standard.
“This will be the first in the nation to ever have something like this to honor the mothers who have lost their children,” Cortes said.
The full Senate voted the bill forward Thursday. The House has already ok’ed it. Throughout the entire legislative process, only one lawmaker voted against the bill – Representative Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat. The measure now heads to the Governor’s desk.