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Abortion, 'anti-sharia' bills pass House, but fate uncertain in Senate

TALLAHASSEE — Controversial bills that would prohibit the use of Islamic law being applied in state courts, make the death of an unborn child a separate crime from an offense committed against the mother, and ban abortions based on an unborn child's gender or race passed the Florida House Thursday.

The proposals, which passed largely along party lines, must still be approved by the Senate. Those prospects are uncertain as the legislative session enters its final two weeks.

The most heated exchange Thursday came during debate over HB 845, which would require a doctor to sign an affidavit that a woman is not seeking an abortion based on sex or gender. During debate, bill sponsor Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, accused Planned Parenthood and other abortion groups of targeting black women.

"In America alone — without the Nazi Holocaust, without the Ku Klux Klan — Planned Parenthood and other abortionists have reduced our black population by more than 25 percent since 1973," said Van Zant, who is white.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, a black Democrat from St. Petersburg, said he was insulted by the remarks, and accused Van Zant of using protection of African-Americans to advance an antiabortion agenda.

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 bald-faced lie."

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said it "opposes racism and sexism in all forms," and that the group "condemns sex selection motivated by gender or racial bias."

The Senate version of Van Zant's bill has not been heard in any Senate committee.

Another abortion-related bill that passed Thursday, HB 759, would make it a separate crime if a fetus at any age of development is injured or killed during an attack on a pregnant woman.

Opponents say the bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, would open the door to broader protections for embryos, which would lead to additional abortion restrictions.

The Senate version of the bill appears stalled in committee.

House lawmakers also approved a measure that requires that Florida law trump foreign law in family law court. The bill, HB 351, would apply to all foreign laws, though critics say it is targeting Islamic law, called sharia.

Supporters have yet to cite a case where the change in law is needed. Sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, has described the bill as a preventive measure.

The same bill passed the House last year but not the Senate.

With reporting from the News Service of Florida.

Abortion, 'anti-sharia' bills pass House, but fate uncertain in Senate 04/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 10:30pm]
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