Lies, Race and Gender Clash in Heated Anti-Abortion House Debate

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After tense debate that included allegations of lying and large-scale eugenics, the House on Thursday passed a measure banning abortions meant to avoid having a baby of a particular gender or race.

The House also on Thursday passed a measure that adds criminal penalties in some cases for harming or killing an unborn child in the act of harming or killing its mother, a measure that opponents said opened the door to granting rights to embryos in an attempt to further the anti-abortion movement.

Both bills passed easily, mostly along party lines with Republicans in favor, but still need approval from a Senate that has been less likely to push hard for abortion measures in recent years.

The debate over the bill (HB 845) prohibiting “sex-selective” or “race-selective” abortions was particularly strident and heated, leading tempers to flare.

Its sponsor, Rep. Charles Van Zant, alleged that Planned Parenthood puts its abortion clinics disproportionately in minority neighborhoods – a charge the organization denies – and said that abortion has done more to reduce the size of the African-American population than any other danger that community might face – calling it government-funded “eugenics.”

“So without the Nazi holocaust, without the Ku Klux Klan, Planned Parenthood and other abortionists have reduced our black population by 25 percent since 1973,” said Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican who is white.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, who is black, said he was “insulted,” by the context, accusing Van Zant of using protection of African Americans to advance an anti-abortion agenda.

Rouson said if people were concerned about “genocide” of the African American population, lawmakers should change criminal punishment policies and improve the education system.

“I can think of some pro life things we could do,” said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Another African-American Democrat, Rep. Cynthia Stafford of Miami, said the notion that backers of the bill were standing up against discrimination against blacks and women was “a bold-faced lie.”

The bill wouldn’t punish the woman seeking the abortion for doing so to avoid having a child of a particular race or gender, but would prohibit abortion providers from knowingly performing one before signing an affidavit that they aren’t doing so due to the child’s sex or race. Doing so would be a third degree felony, and if someone knows about such abortions and doesn’t report them, they could face a civil penalty.

The measure also authorizes the fathers of unborn children and grandparents in some cases to sue if a woman does have an abortion based on gender or race.

The bill passed 71-44.

Planned Parenthood released a statement calling the bill “primarily a political tactic of those who oppose safe and legal abortion,” and, citing a census of known abortion providers, said that fewer than 1 in 10 abortion clinics are in majority black neighborhoods.

Earlier Thursday, the House passed by a 74-43 vote a bill that creates a legal definition of an unborn child and makes it a separate crime if an unborn child is harmed or killed when a pregnant woman is injured or dies as the result of a crime.

The language defining unborn child is already in federal law, defining it as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” The same, or similar language is in place in several other states.

But opponents said it opens the door in Florida to broader protections for embryos, which could lead to infringements on the right to abortion.

Rep Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said the bill “elevated the status of a fertilized egg” to that of a full human being.

But Rep. Ray Rodrigues said most members of the House, and many people in Florida, already believe that unborn children are living human beings, and made no apologies for trying to extend additional protections to them that go as far as possible under the law of the land. He told a story about how he, like other expecting parents, talked to his child in the womb, and that when his son was born during a complication in his wife’s pregnancy and at first was unresponsive, the child responded to his voice.

“The real question is, are the unborn worthy of our protection?” said Rodrigues, R-Estero. “….They are alive, and they are children and they deserve our protection.”

by David Royse

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