Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley says abortion rights groups have “misinterpreted” remarks that he made last week to a Miami public radio station about abortion, saying he’s just laying out “historical facts.”
“When you get a birth rate less than two percent, that society is disappearing,” Baxley told WLRN Radio last Friday in a discussion about Western European birth rates. “And it’s being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate, don’t wish to assimilate into that society and they do believe in having children. So you see that there are long-range impacts to your society when the answer is to exterminate.”
That comment has ignited a fierce response from members of activist groups organized in a coalition called Floridians for Reproductive Freedom. Baxley made similar comments to Gainesville’s WCJB. In a statement issued on Thursday, the group called the remarks “racist” and said that the comments were the latest example of a “long pattern of prejudice that has defined Dennis Baxley’s career as a politician.”
Baxley says his comment was misinterpreted.
“I’m not a white supremacist. I’m not a person who is a racist. I value every person and I deeply regret that they were able to twist it into that type of a message,” he told the Phoenix, adding that the anti-abortion movement is “very multicultural and very multiracial.”
Critics called Baxley’s comment a form of hate speech.
“When we remain silent we become complicit. We are speaking out because as Americans, as people of conscience, we all have a responsibility to stand up against hate speech,” said Kimberly Diaz-Scott, director of public policy for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “If we don’t, that speech becomes accepted and then it turns into action.”
In making their case against Baxley – a longtime state lawmaker from Ocala – the organization also cited Baxley’s initial opposition to removing a statue of a Confederate general chosen to represent the state of Florida in the U.S. Capitol (it’s since been removed) and his 2013 comments calling some LGBTQ parents “dysfunctional.”
Baxley told the Phoenix that his statement on WLRN “only points out to the reality that social policy about things like what we do about unplanned pregnancy does have long term consequences, and if you’re not having children, societies do disappear and new civilizations appear in their place,” he said, adding “that’s just a historical fact.”
In their statement, Floridians for Responsive Freedom linked to a listing of the Ocala Republican’s financial supporters such as Disney World, the GEO Group and the Florida Hospital Association.
“These companies and associations would never tolerate the kind of hate speech in their own ranks but if they continue to look the other way and keep writing checks to the likes of Dennis Baxley then they have to take responsibility for his agenda of hate,” said Jasmen Rogers-Shaw, staff and policy director for the Miami Workers Center
Baxley sponsored a “fetal heartbeat bill” in the state Senate this spring that would have banned abortions in Florida after about six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. It failed to go anywhere in the Legislature. Similar versions have been enacted in several states this year, most recently in Louisiana.
Baxley says that he expects the debate on the issue to continue leading up to next year’s legislative session, but he sounded more enthusiastic about a proposal anti-abortion advocates support that would require a teenager to get parental consent before getting an abortion. That proposal passed in the House this spring but stalled in the Senate. Florida law already requires that teenagers who seek to end a pregnancy notify their parents, but the the bill proposed in the 2019 Legislature would have gone further, requiring teens to get notarized consent from parents.
Republican Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, who represents southwest Florida, says he supports the bill and says it will likely return in 2020.
While more states pass so-called “heartbeat” bills, the state of Alabama has gone further, passing legislation earlier this month that essentially bans abortions of any sort – even if the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.
That bill has spurred two state Senate Democratic lawmakers to respond with their own proposals to prevent legislation like that from passing in Florida. Orange County Senator Linda Stewart says she’ll file a bill early next year that would prohibit the state of Florida from entering into any contract with any entity, corporation or association that is based in a state that passed laws contrary to the U.S. Supreme court’s Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy.
And Broward County Senator Lauren Book says she will file a proposal for a constitutional amendment that will say that any vote on abortion in the Florida Legislature can’t take place unless there’s an equal representation of male and female lawmakers present. She announced her “No vote about women without women” legislation after the Alabama Senate passed its abortion ban with only three lawmakers present in the Chamber. All three women opposed it, and 25 men voted to support it.
Baxley says he has no problem with people who disagree with his conservative stances on some issues, but does take exception to some of his critic’s methods.
“I don’t mind anyone telling me I’ve got it wrong, but I don’t understand this approach of the way to have a policy discussion is to attack the person,” he says.
Jasmen Rogers-Shaw with the Miami Workers Center says Baxley should understand that “this isn’t the outrage of one organization but many, representing a cross-section of our state, that are raising these concerns and calling for him to be held accountable as a public official.”