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A House Panel Divided: Passions Run High As Abortion Bills Clear Last Stop

Several abortion bills are now headed to the Florida House floor, after clearing their last committee stop Wednesday. They include a bill that seeks to ban abortions based on the sex or gender of the unborn child. But, lawmakers had mixed feelings on the issue, at times voting against their own party.

The abortion issue is always a controversial one, and each year, at least one abortion bill inflames passions among Florida lawmakers as they vet the issue.

On Wednesday, that bill (HB 845) was a measure sponsored by Republican Representative Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights.

“So, the purpose of this legislation is to protect unborn children from prenatal discrimination through abortions based on the child’s sex or race,” said Van Zant.

The bill also requires people who perform abortions to sign an affidavit, swearing they have no knowledge the procedure was done solely because of the race or sex of the unborn child. If it’s found that that provider had known, they could face a third degree felony and a $10,000 fine.

Backers of the bill include the Florida Catholic Conference and Florida Family Action.

And, opponents of the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union, or the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood.

Kellie Dupree of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood called it a “discriminatory proposal” that interferes with a woman’s medical decision.

“If this bill becomes law, women of color will face racial profiling in the doctor’s office. All women will have their motives and their character questioned on the exam table. HB 845 is an anti-women’s health measure dressed as an anti-discrimination law. I urge you to vote no on this bill,” said Dupree.

One lawmaker who was battling with whether to vote no on the bill was Republican Representative Kathleen Passidomo of Naples. She’s the Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that vetted the bill Wednesday.

“I don’t like the bill. But, I don’t like the concept even more. I mean, to me it is abhorrent that anyone would perform or have an abortion because they don’t like the race or sex of the child. But, frankly, I think as a conservative Republican, who keeps let’s get out of your lives, except when we want to stay in it, I’m concerned about that. And, so I will support the bill, but again, these kind of issues are not the kind of thing that we should be handling in the Florida Legislature,” said Passidomo.

Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers agreed that this could be seen as more government intrusion. But, unlike Passidomo, she voted against the proposal along with her Republican colleague, Representative Ray Pilon of Sarasota.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I think if we’re going to really attack criminal activity, we should do it in a criminal manner, not in a manner that puts the doctor on the spot. I think that’s the wrong person to place the blame on,” said Pilon.

Intense debate went back and forth between Republicans and Democrats on the abortion bill, and the panel’s Chairman, Republican Representative Dennis Baxley, tried to calm the waters with an impassioned plea.

He urged the fellow members of his committee to put aside their party differences and their pro-life-pro-choice arguments to look at the bigger picture.

“I implore you just make this one tiny step for a little girl. Folks, I have eight grandchildren—five of them are little girl. God forbid, it would be legal for somebody to destroy one of those little girls, simply because they’re a beautiful little girl. And, that’s all we’re saying. That’s all we’re saying. Can we make this one tiny step toward each other,” asked Baxley.

The bill passed 10 to 7, with Representative Daphne Campbell of Miami as the lone Democrat to vote for the proposal.

And, while it may not have changed anyone’s votes on that particular bill, Baxley’s speech did change the vote of Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz on another abortion measure. It would make it a separate crime to cause or contribute to the death of a fetus that can live outside the womb. Moskowitz says he would rather a plan that would enhance the penalties rather than a separate charge.

“Before I heard the chairman [Baxley] speak, I was going to vote against this. But, I feel the Chairman gave one of the better arguments that I’ve heard in a long time,” said Moskowitz.

That measure (HB 759) passed 12 to 4, with Moskowitz and Campbell voting alongside Republicans. But, there was one measure that the House Judiciary Committee approved with a unanimous vote. That bill (HB 887) terminates the parental rights of a man who raped a woman, and could allow that woman to make the choice herself whether she would have an abortion. All three abortion measures now head to the House Floor.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.