On the abortion front in 2021: GOP lawmakers push for more restrictions; critics plan to push back

Some 8,000 protestors on both sides of the abortion issue paraded for legislators who convened a special session of the FL Legislature in 1989. The abortion issue continues to draw attention in state capitals in Florida and elsewhere. Photo by Mark Foley. State Library & Archives of Florida.

Reproductive health and abortion rights advocates in Florida will face more hurdles during the 2021 legislative session, with bills pending that could place further restrictions on pregnant women who want an abortion.

Last year, lawmakers approved a bill that was quietly signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, requiring a minor to receive parental consent in order to terminate a pregnancy. Any doctor who provides an abortion to a minor outside of parental consent could be charged with a third-degree felony.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration reported more than 72,000 terminations of pregnancy in 2020, data show.

The fight for reproductive rights comes as state lawmakers file legislation that would prohibit abortions at 20 weeks and make it harder for young people to learn about sexual education in schools.

“We also know that this type of legislation is an attempt to chip away at abortion rights in general,” Amy Weintraub, Progress Florida’s reproductive rights program director, said in a phone conversation with the Florida Phoenix.

“Most abortions happen well before this [20-week] mark and there will always be a need for abortions later in pregnancy.”

State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and state Rep. Tommy Gregory have introduced bills titled “Protection of a Pain-capable Unborn Child from Abortion” to ban abortions at five months, claiming that is the time when an unborn child can feel pain.

“We have an obligation to be the voice of the unborn, who are too often not valued as individuals with the right to chart their own life,” Rodriguez, a Republican representing part of Monroe county and Miami-Dade counties, said in a written statement.

“It is vital that the state of Florida takes action to protect these innocent lives,” said Rodriguez, who is serving her first term in the state Senate after previously serving in the Florida House.

Gregory, a Republican representing part of Manatee and Sarasota counties, said in a written statement:

“As a society, we value the dignity of life. This is why we celebrate births, condemn murder, care for our elderly, and mourn our dead. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we value all lives equally, or if some lives are worth more than others, depending on the age of the person. Do all lives really matter? Florida must take the bold stance of answering that question with a resounding ‘Yes’.”

According to Planned Parenthood, medical groups such as The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose the 20-week abortion ban, saying the proposals “are not based on sound science and attempt to prescribe how physicians should care for their patients.”

Rodriguez also wants parents to give consent before their children learn about sexual education in schools, through proposed legislation in this year’s session titled “Materials Harmful to Minors.”

SB 410 would require “school districts or specified schools to notify and request the written consent of parents before the teaching of reproductive health or any sexually transmitted disease.”

Laura Goodhue, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida, strongly opposes the bill because it “would make it harder for young people to take sex-ed in school.”

“Sometimes this is the only place they can find the information they need to keep themselves protected and healthy,” she said in an email to the Phoenix.

“Ironically, without comprehensive, medically accurate sexual health education many young people may find themselves with unintended pregnancies and in need of abortion care.”

Although abortions are legal in the United States through the landmark case Roe v. Wade from the U.S. Supreme Court, many states have already adopted laws and restrictions that make it harder to gain access to abortion services.

Planned Parenthood provides a map listing states nation with abortion restrictions, showing many southern states such as Georgia, Alabama, and Texas where the 20-week abortion ban already exists and other severe restrictions on access to reproductive health services.

“We have been able to hold off abortion bans in the state unlike our southern neighbors … but we are always on guard. What we are seeing now from Sen. Rodriguez and Rep. Gregory is an attempt to follow our neighbors,” Weintraub said.

For now, state lawmakers will have to hear arguments in committee meetings regarding abortion rights and decide whether to push legislation through the Florida Legislature that may challenge reproductive rights.

“Our movement is not just about defending abortion, it is all about expanding access to all types of reproductive health care,” Weintraub said.

Goodhue added:

“All pregnancies are unique and regardless of how a politician feels about abortion, it’s not their place to impose these dangerous bans on people who must make these deeply personal and private decisions.”