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Florida House passes ‘disability abortion’ ban; bill unlikely to become law

The bill passed largely along party lines.
Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Wednesday in its final committee stop. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla)
Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Wednesday in its final committee stop. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla) [ AILEEN PERILLA | AP ]
Published Apr. 23
Updated Apr. 23

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Friday joined a national effort by conservative lawmakers to restrict access to “disability abortions.”

The House voted 74 to 44 along mostly partisan lines to pass a bill which would prohibit doctors from performing abortions in cases where the doctor “knows, or should know” that the procedure was requested solely because the fetus was shown to have a disability. Nine other states have passed similar bills, many of which have been subjected to court challenges.

The bill passed by the House, House Bill 1221, almost certainly won’t become law this year. The measure’s Senate companion, Senate Bill 1664, was never heard in a committee.

Many in the disability community opposed the bill.

Related: Florida ‘disability abortion’ bill has some critics in the disability community

But the outcome could mean future discussion about this issue in the coming years in the Florida Legislature. Supporters of the bill, including its sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, say “disability abortions” are tantamount to eugenics — the prejudiced practice of attempting to perfect the human gene pool by eliminating individuals with supposedly undesirable traits.

The debate over the bill in the House at times echoed the broader political discourse around abortion. Abortion rights-defending Democrats argued the state should not restrict access to a woman’s personal decision. Anti-abortion Republicans likened abortion to killing a child.

But the discussion also at times took on a different, more emotional dimension. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, on Friday gave an impassioned speech about her own experience as the mother of a 22-year old son with Williams syndrome — a cognitive disability. She argued that if the state wants to help people with disabilities, they should focus first on families like hers — not vulnerable potential mothers.

“It has been a very difficult road. It was a decision that I made with my doctor,” Tant said of her choice to become her son’s mother. “It is something that not every family can do.”

On Thursday, Republicans shot down several amendments proposed by Democrats. One of them would have delayed the implementation of the disability abortion ban until the state eliminates its waiting list for services provided under the iBudget waiver. That would mean giving immediate government support to tens of thousands of Floridians for costly at-home services.

Meanwhile, Republicans argued the state had a moral imperative to ban these procedures. Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, invoked the example of the Nazis when describing the abortions being contemplated by the bills. He argued the fascist 20th century German party would have approved of “disability abortions.”

“The Nazis had a phrase for this,” Sirois said. “They called it ‘life unworthy of life.’”

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