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A Times Editorial

A legislative assault on women's rights

Republican state legislators have spent more than a year spewing rhetoric opposing the federal health care reform law that will require most Americans to have health insurance. Yet on Tuesday, the Florida House is expected for the second straight year to vote to position state government between a woman and her doctor. A similar Senate bill has its last committee stop on Tuesday as well. Hypocrisy is never in short supply in politics. But rarely is it flaunted so brazenly or with so little regard for the constitutional rights of more than half the population.

Attempts to rein in Florida women's access to abortion run the gamut in this year's Legislature. Social conservatives, emboldened by an overwhelming Republican majority in the Legislature and a conservative governor, filed at least 18 bills. But most notable is the revival the scheme — vetoed last year by then-Gov. Charlie Crist — that would require any woman seeking an abortion to first have a costly ultrasound exam. She then must have the images described to her or sign a piece of paper refusing to hear the description.

Women could only avoid the ultrasound for two reasons under SB 1744 and HB 1127: if the abortion is a medical emergency, or if she could prove herself a victim of rape, incest or domestic violence — an extraordinary burden for victims who may not have reported those crimes for reasons lawmakers clearly haven't considered or chose not to respect.

Supporters have tried to sugarcoat this intrusion into the doctor-client relationship as a government guarantee that women will have the medical information they need. But it's really nothing more than Big Brother tactics aimed at intimidating citizens' private medical decisions. Crist, who opposed abortion, understood that when he vetoed the measure last year: "Personal views should not result in laws that unwisely expand the role of government and coerce people to obtain medical tests or procedures that are not medically necessary."

Sadly, this is not the only attack on women's reproductive rights. Social conservatives in the Legislature are also intent on denying women access to resources to cover the expense of an abortion. One idea poised for a vote in the House on Tuesday (HJR 1179) would ask voters to rewrite the state Constitution to forbid government spending on abortion — except in cases of rape, incest or a danger to a mother's health.

Others are intent on passing a legislation that would be redundant under the federal health care plan to prohibit public money from paying for insurance plans that cover abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or a mother's health. And still others are proposing more direct assaults on Roe vs. Wade — the 38-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted women the right to abortion — including outlawing abortion altogether.

Missed in the entire discussion, however, is any modicum of restraint from a political party that claims to be about limited government and individual liberty. In Tallahassee, limited government is good for everyone but Florida women of child-bearing age.

A legislative assault on women's rights 04/22/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 22, 2011 7:41pm]
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