Privacy clause is at center of Amendment 6 debate

TALLAHASSEE — Supporters of Amendment 6 say their intentions are simple: to ensure Florida tax money isn't used to pay for abortions and to restore state laws that require parental consent before minors get abortions.

But that's not all this proposed constitutional amendment would do, opponents say. Amendment 6 would modify a privacy clause in the Florida Constitution that for the past 32 years has helped protect citizens from government intrusion in their private lives. They say it's not just a woman's right to have an abortion that could be in jeopardy, but decisions regarding contraception, health care and personal choices.

"To us, it's deeply concerning because in our Constitution in this state, there is a very explicit right to privacy that people should be free of government interference," said Deirdre Macnab, state president of the League of Women Voters, an organization leading the campaign against Amendment 6. "This is the first step in dismembering and overturning our Florida Constitution's right to privacy."

Of the 11 different constitutional amendments filling ballots this fall, Amendment 6 is the one that could have the most lasting unintended consequences, opponents argue. The measure, and the 10 others, require 60 percent of votes cast to pass.

The proposal, which was placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature, is primarily being championed by the Catholic Church. Religious institutions in Florida can support or oppose ballot initiatives without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. They are prohibited from supporting or opposing specific candidates.

While state and federal law prohibits public funding of abortion, supporters want the ban written into the Constitution.

"We believe that people don't want their taxpayer dollars paying for abortions," said Sheila Hopkins, associate director at the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The church distributed literature touting the importance of Amendment 6 to parishes. Bishops and priests encouraged members to spread the word among friends and neighbors leading up to Election Day.

In addition to making the state Constitution mirror federal rules that prohibit public dollars from paying for abortions (except in the case of cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in jeopardy), Amendment 6 also modifies a privacy clause in the state Constitution.

Florida is one of nine states that has specific privacy protections beyond the U.S. Constitution. Supporters hope that relaxing these protections will empower the Legislature to restore state laws that require parents to give permission before a minor receives an abortion.

Current state law requires guardians of minors only to be notified.

"We are anxious and want to pass Amendment 6 so the parents can get back their rights to be involved with their child on such a serious decision," Hopkins said.

Amendment 6 opponents say consequences could be far-reaching if it passes and these privacy protections evaporate. That is why they have put so much energy into the "Vote No on 6" campaign, as well as money, to the tune of $3.1 million through Oct. 12.

"Certain people could be targeted, and having certain aspects of their health care taken away," said Damien Filer, who works for Progress Florida and is serving as a spokesman for the "Vote No on 6" campaign. "Who knows if we're opening a floodgate to just about anything?"

Most financial support against Amendment 6 has come from Planned Parenthood chapters, but the coalition includes the Florida League of Women Voters, NAACP and other socially progressive religious, civil rights and labor groups.

As of Oct. 12, the political committee raising money for the "Say Yes on 6" campaign had collected about $380,000.

Tony Carvajal, director of policy at the nonpartisan Collins Center for Public Policy, said the privacy issue remains at the center of the Amendment 6 debate. And the implications could be huge in the long term, he said. "This changes the whole battleground in the courts for abortions."

Contact Tia Mitchell at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Your guide to the amendments

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Privacy clause is at center of Amendment 6 debate 10/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 11:15pm]

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