Incoming Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos and his Republican colleagues have launched an all-out assault on women's rights in the waning hours of the legislative session. On Thursday, just one day after unveiling two highly restrictive antiabortion amendments, the measures were passed by the full Senate, 23-16, largely along party lines as part of a health care bill (HB 1143). Both measures would enable the government to intrude into women's private medical decisions in ways that should be anathema to a political party that claims to be for small government. The hypocrisy, and the way the amendments were introduced without a single committee hearing, is almost as distasteful as the measures themselves.
Haridopolos' amendment would prohibit the use of state or federal money for abortions in almost all cases. Current law already bars the government from directly funding abortion services, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger or the woman was a victim of rape or incest. Haridopolos' measure would go further. Employers receiving a government tax credit to provide employees with health insurance, as will happen under federal health care reform, could not choose a policy that covered elective abortion services.
This could effectively wipe out such abortion coverage — a benefit that a large majority of private insurers offer — in private insurance plans in Florida. Insurance companies are probably not going to establish differing plans for employers based on their tax posture; they'll simply drop the coverage. How do Republicans reconcile this with their objections that health care reform unduly interferes with private health insurance? They can't.
Another amendment, sponsored by state Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would tell doctors how to practice medicine. It would make every abortion costlier and more emotionally wrenching, as if this moment in a woman's life isn't difficult enough. Every woman seeking an abortion would have to undergo a pricey ultrasound procedure. In most cases, medical personnel would be required to orally describe the images of the developing fetus. A woman may refuse to view the images by filling out a form but she still must hear the description.
Only women whose life is in danger or can prove through court order or other official document that they are victims of domestic violence, rape, incest or human trafficking are allowed to avoid this description of the fetus. Women who have already suffered traumatic abuse would have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get constitutionally protected medical services.
Fortunately, House Democrats are standing firmly against the amendments. On Thursday, they refused to support the expediting of any bills in the House until they receive assurances that the offending language would be stripped. Maybe this courageous stance will mean Florida won't become a state that makes a woman's private relationship with her doctor the government's business.