In another case of deception, the Florida Legislature has placed two health care-related amendments on the ballot with titles that don't come close to describing their mischief. Amendment 1 is a damaging political swipe at the federal Affordable Care Act, and Amendment 6 is an assault on abortion rights. Voters should reject them and protect the state Constitution from becoming a culture-war document that hamstrings future legislatures from responding to Floridians' needs.
Amendment 1, "Health Care Services," would ban state laws that force people or employers to buy health insurance coverage. That is a response to the individual mandate provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that require nearly everyone to have health insurance by 2014 or pay a tax penalty. But federal law trumps the state Constitution, meaning that the amendment would have no impact. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate's constitutionality under Congress' taxing powers.
What makes this more than an empty political gesture is that it would make it harder for the state to experiment with health care reform if the federal law is repealed as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney promises to deliver. For instance, the Legislature would be limited in its ability to require that the state's large employers provide health care coverage to employees. A no vote would keep those sorts of options open.
Amendment 6, "Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights," has two distinct parts. Each infringes upon abortion rights.
Part one would ban public money from going to abortion services or for health coverage that includes abortion services, except in cases of rape and incest or to save the mother's life. While federal law prohibits public funding for abortion services in Medicaid and other federal spending programs, the amendment would go further by enshrining the limit in the state Constitution and reaching into employee health care.
All public-sector employees at every level of government, including teachers, police officers, university professors and doctors and nurses at government hospitals, would be affected by a constitutional ban on abortion coverage in their health insurance. A pregnant public employee who needs chemotherapy, for instance, could no longer get an essential health-related abortion paid for by insurance.
The amendment's second part, titled "Construction of Abortion Rights," is a sneakier attack. The title fails to mention that it would open the way for the state to outlaw all abortions if Roe vs. Wade were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The amendment tells state courts that, as it relates to abortion, Florida's state constitutional right to privacy may not be interpreted any more broadly than privacy rights under the federal Constitution. If the U.S. Supreme Court throws the issue of abortion back to the states by reversing Roe, Florida could return to the days of back-alley abortions.
Just say no to the Legislature's mislabeled attempts to amend the Florida Constitution. On Amendments 1 and 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends no votes.