Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

An attack on women in Florida

Florida and its women are being attacked. The state's Republican leaders are laying the legal groundwork for the day Roe vs. Wade is overturned by the Roberts court.

But they have a problem. Before abortion can be outlawed in Florida, the state Constitution has to be amended to limit abortion rights. An amendment takes 60 percent of the popular vote, yet more than half of Floridians say they don't want new restrictions on abortion.

So trickery is part of the plan.

With Republicans enjoying super-majorities in Florida's House and Senate and occupying the Governor's Mansion, victory in the culture war is so close Florida's religious conservatives are loading up on aspirin for women to hold you know where. If a Republican wins the White House, the demise of a woman's right to choose an abortion is as bankable as the coming long, hot summer. All a President Mitt Romney would have to do is replace one liberal justice, or even centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy, with a conservative appointee, and women can kiss their bodily autonomy goodbye.

It was nice while it lasted.

But there's a hiccup in Florida. The state has a constitutional right to privacy which guarantees every person "the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life."

This might sound like something straight out of a tea party rally, though it's missing references to Medicare's inviolability. But Florida's constitutional right to privacy is a progressive manifesto that protects, among other things, the right to refuse medical care and the right to an abortion.

The privacy amendment's history would make any prochoice woman weep with nostalgia. It passed a solidly Democratic state Legislature in 1980 and was affirmed in a popular vote later that year. Florida is one of only 10 states that includes an explicit right to privacy in its Constitution.

Just seven years earlier Roe had been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court based on a penumbral right to privacy in the federal Constitution. What the Florida electorate gave itself was an insurance policy. Even if Roe were overturned, Florida's constitutional right to privacy would protect women from untoward government intrusion.

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed this view in a 1989 case striking down a law requiring minors to obtain parental consent before getting an abortion. The justices said the privacy amendment "embraces more privacy interests" with even broader privacy protections than that found in the federal Constitution.

The only way around this is to take a hatchet to the right to privacy, which is precisely what Florida's leaders are trying to do.

Enter Amendment 6. Last year, in the waning days of the legislative session, a constitutional amendment titled "Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights" was hurried through. Did you catch from the title the way women's right to privacy was being partly written out of the Constitution? No? Well, that's the point.

The measure's title was designed to make it appear that it would simply enshrine current law that bars tax money from funding abortions. But the abstruse "Construction of Abortion Rights" would limit abortion rights under the state Constitution to whatever exists in the federal Constitution. In other words, if Roe goes bye-bye so would Florida's constitutional protections.

The measure, which will be voted on in November, would be a huge contraction of women's rights, with the state Constitution rewritten to offer one set of privacy rights to men and a lesser set for women.

The purposely obscure title means that voters who don't bother to read the summary won't know what they are really voting on. A measure titled "Limitation of Abortion Rights" would surely fail. So the Republican-controlled Legislature resorted to tricking the voter, like the sleaziest salesman who urges buyers not to read the fine print.

Amendment 6 would make it possible for Florida lawmakers to outlaw abortion in all circumstances, should Roe be dispatched by the Supreme Court. It's an all-out assault on women's rights. And a sneak attack at that.

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