TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Bills seeking to ban sex- and race-selective abortions and to require that babies surviving botched abortions receive medical care cleared House subcommittees on Wednesday as the hot-button issue resurfaced during a legislative session that's been largely bereft of battles over social issues.
The legislation (HB845) that drew the most push back from abortion-rights supporters would prohibit abortions motivated by the gender or race of an unborn child. Its sponsor, Rep. Charles Van Zant, said the U.S. has become a "safe haven" for people around the world wanting to terminate pregnancies for those reasons, but he didn't have any numbers on how many such abortions are done.
"Race-selection abortion is race-based violence and that must stop," the Keystone Heights Republican said before his bill cleared the House Criminal justice Subcommittee.
The measure would require abortion providers to sign an affidavit stating they had no knowledge the procedure was being done based on the unborn child's sex or race. Providers would be slapped with a $10,000 fine for failing to report such abortions. Van Zant and other supporters said it's aimed at curbing a form of discrimination that snuffs out a potential life.
An exasperated Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, said the bill amounted to another rendition of "conservative story time."
"This is just another attempt to chip away at access by calling into question every woman who makes a deeply personal medical decision," he said.
The bill also has sexist and racist overtones, Slosberg said.
"It's basically implying by statute that women and minority babies are considered less desirable, second-class citizens," he said.
Missy Wesolowski with Planned Parenthood called the bill a "dangerous intrusion" in the doctor-patient relationship by turning doctors into investigators and their patients into suspects.
"At the same time, it insults women of color by calling into question their ability to make decisions about their own bodies," she said.
Another bill (HB1129) that drew less resistance would require that medical care be given to newborns, likely to be premature, who survive botched abortions. The care would be given at a hospital and not at the abortion clinic.
The bill, approved by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, says that such newborns would be entitled to the same rights as any other infants.
"The state has an interest in people who are incapacitated," said bill sponsor Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park. "This bill is intended to guarantee all respect and humanity to an infant that's born alive, regardless of how it entered this world."
No information was provided indicating how often babies are born alive during attempted abortions, or what happens to those newborns now. Also, no numbers were presented on how often such cases occur or who would pay for the babies' care.
Pigman said he continues to work on the wording of a "surrender clause" to determine who would offer consent for medical care that could last for some time.
"In the circumstance of an infant born alive from an abortion, there is at least suspicion that the biological mother may not have the better interest of that born-alive infant in mind," he said.
He said the "surrender clause" could be drafted in a way to allow the mother to regain responsibility for the child if the abortion had been attempted to protect her health. In other situations, the decisions could rest with child-protective officials.
Judith Selzer of Planned Parenthood said the bill amounted to a government intrusion.
"Politicians should not be the ones to decide what constitutes the best medically appropriate treatment in a given situation," she said. "This legislation attempts to intimidate doctors, health care practitioners and even doctor's office employees."
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