Many Floridians were undoubtedly flabbergasted to learn this week that the Legislature, in its wisdom, is considering a bill that virtually bans the practice of abortion in this state. Every legislative session sees its share of frivolous, time-wasting proposals, but this particular one is about as bad as it gets.
The chances of this bill becoming law are slim. The chances of surviving a court challenge are even slimmer.
Even so, it’s a dangerous proposal that sends a message that some legislators are willing to ignore what the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed as the law of the land in order to fulfill their own personal, political agenda.
The sweeping piece of legislation making its way through the House would make performing an abortion or operating an abortion clinic a first-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, unless two physicians certify in writing that it’s needed to prevent death or serious, permanent injury to the mother.
With exquisite timing, a House criminal justice panel — one of three committees the bill must clear to get to a floor vote — advanced the bill on Monday by a vote of 8 to3.
Just hours earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review rulings by lower courts that overturned North Dakota’s ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy — before many women learn they are pregnant. And last week, the high court refused to review a case involving Arkansas’ bid to enforce a law banning some abortions at 12 weeks. Both measures had been struck down by a unanimous panel of three judges on the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Legislators in Tallahassee should stifle this latest bid to repeal abortion before it goes any further. It’s broader in scope than the measures whose ban was upheld by the Supreme Court, giving it even less chance of withstanding judicial scrutiny. And it shows utter contempt for the right of women to decide for themselves whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
That is a right women and abortion supporters won back in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, or thought they did. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped repeated attempts at both the state and federal level to make an end run around the law.
The latest attempt in Florida, HB 865 by Rep. Charles Van Zant, R- Keystone Heights, has been filed by him for the last seven years, but this was the first time it was granted a committee hearing and a vote.
Sadly, it is just one of several anti-abortion bills moving forward in the Legislature, all of them designed to violate the rights of women and/or the rights of medical practitioners.
Other bills that have received approval by at least one committee include measures to ban Medicaid payments to any clinic where abortions are performed. Another would require doctors who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges — a version of a controversial Texas law that has come under prolonged challenge in the courts.
None of these should be approved by the Legislature, but the first order of business should be to sink Mr. Van Zant’s misguided proposal. News reports said legislators acted out of courtesy to Mr. Van Zant, who is term limited and in his final session.
If Mr. Van Zant’s legislative pals want to make him feel good, they should just buy him a cake. Deference to a retiring member is no excuse to indulge in legislative malpractice.