Florida lawmakers are moving forward with a near-total ban on abortions in the state plus a second bill placing new requirements on doctors who perform abortions.
By an 8-3 vote Monday afternoon, a House criminal justice panel voted to advance the more sweeping piece of legislation (HB 865), which would make performing an abortion or operating an abortion clinic a first-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Just hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its long-standing ruling affirming women's right to the procedure.
“The bill recognizes that both the mother and the baby are citizens of the state of Florida... and we are therefore compelled to protect their lives,” said Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, the bill's sponsor.
He has put forward similar legislation for seven years, but it had never before been considered by a committee, the first step required to pass a bill into law, until Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, agreed to consider it Monday. Trujillo, the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, did not discuss the bill during debate and left the committee room without commenting.
“The Legislature finds that all human life comes from the Creator, has an inherent value that cannot be quantified by man, and begins at the earliest biological development of a fertilized human egg,” the bill says.
It goes on to say that “personal liberty is not a license to kill or otherwise destroy any form of human life,” and that the state has an interest in stopping abortions, unless the safety of the mother is in question.
It’s likely that Van Zant’s proposal, if passed by the Legislature, would lead to lawsuits citing the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling inRoe vs. Wade. That became even more likely Monday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned an abortion ban in North Dakota.
Florida Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority in the House and nearly one in the Senate, so they could pass the House bill and the Senate would take it up. One possibility is that it could die there, the argument being that the state would lose millions in taxpayer funds defending a bill that will be overturned by the Supreme Court, but there's no reason to let this out of committee unless the plan is to try to pass it (hence the seven years of not getting out of committee.)
However the other and much more likely possibility is that this bill is meant to sell Ohio-style TRAP laws in the state as a "compromise" bait-and-switch tactic.
Last week, a House panel gave the first nod of approval to tougher licensing requirements (HB 233) for abortion clinics that would hold them to the same or higher standards as surgical centers.
The third proposal (HB 1411) also passed its first House committee Monday afternoon, by a 7-6 vote. The wide-ranging bill blocks state funding for facilities that perform elective abortions, sets new requirements for inspections by the Agency for Health Care Administration, and requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges and agreements to transfer patients to a hospital located within 30 minutes of the facility where an abortion is performed.
“I believe that the bill protects the health and wellbeing of mothers in Florida, those who make the choice to have an abortion,” said bill sponsor Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland.
In other words, things just got very real in the Sunshine State, and abortion just became a major issue in the largest 2016 swing state. This nasty little trick will almost certainly close several Florida clinics if it gets through, while all the outrage and coverage is on the unconstitutional ban bill.
Neat trick, huh?