Reproductive Rights Under Heavy Attack in Tallahassee

03/15/10 Lisa Marzilli
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Barely two weeks into the 2010 state legislative session and pro choice advocates could have cause to worry; this session brings with it no less than seven anti-choice bills. And according to one Tallahassee lobbyist, three of the most egregious are likely to gain strength.

Stephanie Kunkel is director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates which lobbies in Tallahassee for reproductive rights. She says it’s not uncommon to see a couple of anti-choice bills introduced at the beginning of any given session but to see so many filed so early means they have a much better shot at passing.

Sometimes we get a reprieve in the fact that we only have a 60 day legislative session. 60 days including weekends is a very short period of time to get legislation through both chambers, to the floor, passed by both chambers and then sent to the governor. So when legislation starts moving in the first or second week of session as we’re seeing now it has a much chance of getting through all of it’s committees of references and coming to a floor vote.

The most radical of the bills, the “Florida for Life Act” was introduced by Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Baptist minister from Palatka who's up for re-election. HB 1097 would make it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion in Florida and contains limited exceptions for the life of the mother. Kunkel says it’s the most rigid and inflexible ban on abortion in the US.

This bill will even go so far as to mandate that survivors of rape, sexual assault and incest carry a pregnancy to term against their will. And we know that this is just nothing more than an attempt to challenge the legal decision of Roe v Wade.

HB 1063 sponsored by GOP Rep. William Snyder of Stuart, also up for re-election, would have given human rights to a fetus. The so called “Born Alive Infant Protection Act” was temporarily shelved at the last minute due to the lack of a Senate co-sponsor.

The goal of his legislation was to essentially say that if a fetus during the course of an abortion is “born alive”; in other words, if it has movement and if it has a heartbeat during an abortion then that fetus is entitled to the same rights, powers and privileges as a child who would be born during the normal course of a birth. And so that would’ve really created some tension with Roe v Wade and how doctors would have to interpret that legislation.

A bill in the Senate does have a co-sponsor in the House which Kunkel says gives the legislation even more strength. The “Florida Unborn Victims of Violence Act”, introduced by New Port Richey Senator Mike Fasano, would elevate the status of an embryo to that of a viable human being. Under current law a person can be charged with homicide if an accident results in the death of a fetus that’s capable of living outside the womb. Kunkel said SB 290 not only seeks to give separate protections to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses, but it would also have the “knowledge and intent” requirements removed from current statute.

So what this means is you could be charged with a capital offense for the death of my unborn child who I may not have even known that I was pregnant and I may not have chosen to carry that pregnancy to term. So we’re talking about a very slippery slope when we’re talking about capital offenses here and changing definitions of when an unborn child is considered viable.

Although it’s unusual for state lawmakers to take on federal constitutional issues, a slew of bills have been introduced by a group of conservative members trying to assert state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment which gives states all the powers not specifically granted to Congress. Kunkel says the so called Tenthers are wasting valuable time trying to exempt Florida from a host of federal mandates including health care, public education and labor instead of trying to solve the state’s economic problems.

If folks are outraged by the fact that the legislature is focusing on bills that would do nothing to reduce the need for abortion instead of focusing on the real problems that Floridians are facing like an 11.9% unemployment rate and 2.5 million Floridians being on food stamps, then I urge your listeners to call their elected officials and tell them that they need to face the real problems facing Floridians and stop passing divisive bills.

Kunkel’s group is also currently monitoring four pro choice bills introduced by Senators Nan Rich and Ted Deutch and House members Keith Fitzgerald and Audrey Gibson.


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