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Fate Of "Disability Abortions" Proposal Unclear As Legislative Session Winds Down

A woman holds the hand of another woman as they sit down.
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The fate of a bill to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of a disability is unclear. It passed a House floor vote last week, despite contentious debate between democrats and republicans. Democrats argued the measure doesn’t take into account the economic factors of raising a child with a disability. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) dismissed those concerns.

Florida could ban abortions based on a diagnosis of a disability. The proposal recently cleared the House following emotional testimony. But its fate is unclear in the Senate.

Suppose a physician knows or should know their patient is ending a pregnancy on the sole basis of a disability, and the physician goes through with the abortion. In that case, the physician could face a third-degree felony under the bill. Rep. Nicholas Duran (D-Miami) says the measure will create a divide between patient and doctor.

"They now have to cover their behinds. They have to make sure that they're not going to get thrown into court or get their license thrown into some sort of issue because they should have known and what that means. And then that really what I think does is pit that physician with their patient. It pits them against each other in some ways," Duran says.

Duran is concerned doctors may start asking patients questions about their abortion, which he says could possibly violate someone's right to privacy. But Republicans have a counterpoint.

"Members, it's a common practice for this legislature to place a variety of requirements on medical practitioners." Rep. Tyler Sirois (R-Merritt Island) says.

He voiced his support of the bill during a recent debate on the House floor.

"The concept of ending a pregnancy on the basis of a disability is modern-day eugenics," Sirois says.

Democrats like Rep. Allison Tant (D-Tallahassee) say there are many reasons why people choose to end pregnancies. Tant has a son with a cognitive disability and told her story to lawmakers on the floor.

"When I was pregnant with him, my doctor threw up his hands—I don't know what's wrong, there's something wrong with this fetus I can't tell what it is—I can't figure it out—you're going to have to go see a specialist and you may need to consider termination. The termination I considered was the termination of my doctor," Tant says.

Tant says complications with her pregnancy caused her to be on bed rest, and she lost 12 weeks' worth of work, which she says a lot of women can't afford to do. Her baby also had to have open-heart surgery at 23-months old.

"And cost—we got a bill for $106,000 for that 20 years ago," Tant says.

Tant says she continues to pay out-of-pocket expenses to help her son and notes, not every family can do that.

"Everybody knows what their other children can manage. Everybody knows what their marriage can survive. Every family knows what they can do. We're not there. We're not in that doctor's office. We're not at that family kitchen table when they're thinking about their other children. When they're thinking about how they're going to manage, I just can't vote for this bill because I think that every family must have the right to make their own decisions," Tant says.

In her close, bill sponsor Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) dismissed Democratic concerns about the costs of caring for and raising kids with disabilities.

"I think the message that we're sending to our children, that someone may be too expensive and inconvenient, and therefore we can terminate them is the wrong message," Grall says.

Grall's bill would still allow physicians to perform an abortion to save the mother's life or if a fetus has a condition that would lead to its death or within a month of birth. That condition could not be a disability under Grall's bill. The Senate companion has not passed through any of its committees this session. Meanwhile, the House bill has been sent to a Senate Rules Committee. But no Senate committees have been scheduled for the last week of session.