The Florida house passed two anti-choice bills on Friday, one that would restrict access to later abortion in the state, and another that would make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.
As the Herald Tribune reported last week, fewer abortion-related bills have been filed in Florida this year than in the past, and these two, the only ones currently moving, are less extreme than other anti-choice bills passing out of other conservative state houses lately. The caution Florida state legislators are showing on choice issues may be a political hedge to protect Gov. Rick Scott (R) from dealing with controversial legislation while he prepares for a tough fight at the polls this fall against Democrat Charlie Crist.
Nonetheless, both new bills are unnecessary and problematic, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told RH Reality Check.
HB 1047, which would impose restrictions on later abortions, is “detrimental to women’s health as well as unconstitutional,” Allen said, because it doesn’t allow broad enough exceptions to protect the health of the pregnant woman. The new health exception now only covers “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” This would exclude numerous health issues, including psychological conditions, Allen said, and the Supreme Court has never defined health exceptions this narrowly.
Florida law currently bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened. In addition to narrowing that health exception, HB 1047 would also add a requirement for doctors to determine whether a fetus is viable (able to live outside the womb through “standard medical measures,” in the bill’s language), and forbid performing abortions on a viable fetus. If life or health reasons require an abortion after that point, two doctors have to certify in writing that this was the case, or one doctor has to certify that an additional doctor wasn’t available to consult.
“A health exception written in a constitutional manner doesn’t tie the doctor’s hands either,” Allen said.
Adding this viability requirement appears to be an attempt to restrict some abortions earlier than 24 weeks, the typical standard for viability. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), who sponsored a companion senate bill that is still in committee, said that viability could be determined as early as 20 weeks due to advanced technology.
Banning abortion after 20 weeks has been a major goal for anti-choice legislators and advocates. Several states, as well as the U.S. House, have either pushed for or passed such bans, several of which have been struck down as unconstitutional because they ban abortion at a specific point in time before viability.
Meanwhile HB 59, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” has been introduced before in Florida but hasn’t passed. This year, however, emotional appeals from Remee Jo Lee, who lost a wanted pregnancy after her boyfriend slipped her abortion drugs, may have persuaded some lawmakers to move the bill forward, which would create a separate crime for killing or injuring a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.
While the new law would not in itself create “personhood,” or separate legal rights for fetuses, Allen said it would “raise the specter of personhood” in state law and could be exploited down the line by those wishing to restrict reproductive freedom.
“The bill is problematic in that it adds an additional victim to a crime when the answer is really to increase the sentence for the perpetrator of a crime against a pregnant woman,” Allen said.
Both bills now head to the senate for consideration.