Bill seeks to ban abortions based on gender, race

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Florida legislature Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)

Photo by Scott Keeler

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Florida legislature Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Tampa Bay Times, Scott Keeler)

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House voted Thursday to ban abortions based solely on an unborn child's gender or race, a procedure that one abortion opponent called a growing trend of "wickedness" that needs to be stopped.

The measure would make it a felony to perform sex- and race-selective abortions. It would require abortion providers to sign an affidavit stating they had no knowledge the procedure was being done based on an unborn child's gender or race.

Opponents described the bill as an intrusion into doctor-patient relationships and called it another example of a male-dominated legislative chamber trying to dictate women's health-care choices.

"It just drives me crazy that so many of these bills are brought up by men," said Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston. "We have no idea what it's like for women to go through this."

House members passed the bill on a 71-44 vote. Its prospects are uncertain in the state Senate, where an identical bill is languishing with barely two weeks left in the 60-day session.

Four states currently prohibit sex-selective abortions. One of those states — Arizona — also bans race-based abortions, according to a staff analysis of the bill.

The measure sparked emotional debate Thursday pitting abortion-rights supporters and abortion opponents.

"This wickedness of destroying human babies because they are not the chosen sex or chosen race must be brought to an end in our state," said Rep. Charles Van Zant, the bill's lead sponsor.

Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, claimed sex- and race-selective abortions are becoming more common in Florida and the U.S., but didn't provide any numbers on how many such abortions are done. He said the U.S. is becoming a destination for people around the world wanting to terminate pregnancies for those reasons but are prevented from doing so in their own countries.

Another bill supporter, Rep. Ronald Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, called sex-selective abortions the "ultimate form of gender-based violence."

Opponents countered that there's no evidence of such a trend and said the bill was barging into women's health decisions and into doctor-patient relationships.

"It makes doctors into grand inquisitioners asking about patients' intent. Doctors' jobs are to provide good, quality health care without being judgmental, not to be criminal investigators," said Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana.

She said the bill was intended "to chill doctors' ability to perform abortions, a procedure which is legal in this state."

The measure would prohibit abortion providers from performing the procedure before signing an affidavit stating they have no knowledge that the abortion was being done due to the unborn child's gender or race. A violation would be a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Also, providers would be slapped with a $10,000 fine for failing to report any such race- or sex-based abortions they know of.

Earlier Thursday, the House passed a bill that would create a crime for killing or harming an unborn child, separate from any offense committed against the mother. Under the bill, the charge for harming an unborn child would apply even if the perpetrator was unaware the mother was pregnant.

The measure (HB 759), which passed on a 74-43 vote, would broadly expand the situations when a crime against an expectant mother leads to separate charges for harming the unborn child. The legislation would apply to fetuses at any point in gestational development, but it would not apply to people conducting legal abortions.

The bill's supporters said that anyone harming a woman should be held accountable for a family's loss when her unborn child dies as a result.

"When an unborn child is killed in the act of a felony, those parents are losing the opportunity to see their child grow, just as they would if a toddler's life was taken," Renuart said.

Opponents raised concerns that the bill would create separate offenses for harming any fetus, whether it's minutes or months after conception.

"It is elevating the legal status of a fertilized egg to that of an adult human being," said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood.

A companion bill in the Senate has cleared a couple of committees.

The emotional debate came one day after the House, in a show of bipartisanship, voted 119-0 to pass a bill (HB 1129) that would require medical care for newborns surviving botched abortions.

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