State Politics

Abortion bill fight brewing in Legislature

SARASOTA -- Women’s rights supporters say bills already filed in the Florida Legislature will adversely affect women’s reproductive rights, such as one that would ban abortions at 20 weeks or more of gestation.

Their opponents, such as the Sarasota-Manatee Chapter of Right to Life, are hoping such measures will pass when legislators convene March 8, and are planning lobbying efforts designed to accomplish just that.

“I think it’ll be time to mobilize the women of Florida to understand the legislature is intent on rolling back women’s access to care in Florida,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, with headquarters in Sarasota.

“The majority of Americans believe women have a right to choose, regardless of their own personal feelings about abortion.”

Jim Styer, president of local Right to Life chapter, said Tuesday he was not able to predict the chance of passage of several proposals involving abortion-related subjects, but said his organization would be active in its lobbying efforts in favor of them all.

Already filed are:

n House Bill 321 would prohibit abortion at 20 or more weeks, according to its summary on the House of Representatives’ website.

n House Bill 97 would prohibit use of state or federal funds to provide coverage for abortions in exchanges created under federal law, its summary said.

n Senate Bill 196 would provide for annual use fees from “Choose Life” specialty license plates to be distributed to an organization called Choose Life Inc., rather than the counties, according to a summary on the Florida Senate website.

Zdravecky noted the majority of those leading the charge in favor of the bills are young, white male legislators.

“It’s really about power over women,” she said. “If they truly wanted to eliminate abortion in the state, they would be funding contraceptive access, sex education and access to care, so that the true numbers would reflect a decrease in unintended pregnancy. They haven’t funded anything having to do with prevention.”

Styer said that HB 321, also known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” would halt abortion at a point where there is a determination the baby could feel pain, based on scientific evidence.

Right to Life will also be supporting HB 97, Styer noted, explaining, “We do not feel we should be using taxpayer money to pay for the killing of babies the majority of people do not want their tax money spent for.”

Meigs Glidewell, president of the Sarasota-Manatee Chapter of the National Organization for Women, said, “Bills prohibiting federal funds to pay for insurance and the abortion ban at 20 weeks would only affect poor women, since middle- and upper-class women have no difficulty getting abortions.”

SB 196 would provide for annual use fees generated by the specialty license plate “Choose Life” to be distributed to the nonprofit organization Choose Life Inc., rather than the counties, its summary said.

In Manatee County, the “Choose Life” plate generated $16,760, and statewide, it raised $649,640 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ website.

Planned Parenthood and NOW oppose the bill.

“Money for license plates belongs to the county, that’s how it’s been done, and to make a special ‘money pass’ to siphon off county money to promote what is essentially a religious standing, is obnoxious,” said Glidewell.

Styer supported it.

“This merely changes the distribution procedure for the money, and makes it more direct going through the ‘Choose Life’ organization itself, which originated the program,” he said. “They will distribute the money in a similar manner without it having to go through county boards of commissioners.”