A divided House committee sent to the House floor a measure that would make it a crime to perform an abortion based on the gender or race of the fetus after a debate supporters conceded was unwanted by members of both parties.
Two Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee voted against the bill, ignoring an impassioned plea for support from committee Chairman Dennis Baxley, a former head of the state Christian Coalition.
The bill (HB 845) would require physicians or health care professionals who perform abortions to swear in writing that the reason for the procedure is not based on the race or gender of the fetus. The measure also carries a $10,000 penalty for performing a race- or gender-based abortion, something bill sponsor Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said is becoming a new industry in the U.S.
Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that having an abortion because of the fetus’s race or gender was “abhorrent.”
Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, voted for the measure but echoed concerns expressed by many conservative women throughout the country on the divisive abortion issue. Passidomo said she considered leaving the room to avoid having to cast a vote.
“I don’t like the bill but I don’t like the concept even more,” Passidomo said. “But frankly as a conservative Republican who keeps saying let’s get out of your lives except when we want to stay in it, I’m concerned about that…These kind of issues are not the kind of issues that we should not be handling here in the Florida legislature.”
Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, said he could not support the measure because he believes in “personal responsibility.” And Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, said she shared Passidomo’s concerns about enforceability and “the fact that we are getting into areas that perhaps we shouldn’t be delving in.”
Baxley acknowledged that some committee members did not want to have to vote on the bill.
But, he said, “We cannot give up on this discussion no matter how difficult it is.”
“I implore you to see this as one small area that we can at least say that if you say that’s the reason you’re doing abortion we can say that’s wrong,” Baxley, R-Ocala, said.
The committee approved the measure with a 10-7 vote with Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, the lone Democrat voting in favor. A similar Senate bill has not yet had a hearing.
The committee also approved another measure (HB 759) supported by abortion opponents. The “Unborn Victims of Violence” proposal would make the death of an “unborn child” at any stage of development a separate crime from any offense committed against the mother, even if the perpetrator was unaware that the woman was pregnant. And it would change the words “viable fetus” and “unborn quick child” in vehicular homicide law to “unborn child,” which Democrats said is akin to more controversial “personhood” proposals attempting to elevate the status of a fetus to that of an adult human being.
Current law now defines homicide as the intentional killing of another human being, said Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, a lawyer.
“This is a huge expansion of …the definition of homicide. And that’s very, very concerning to me,” Kerner said.
The committee approved the measure with a 12-4 vote, with only Democrats opposing it and Campbell voting in support.