Chiles veto can stop anti-abortion bills
Jenny Brown
May/June 1997

In May, our majority-Republican Florida legislature passed two bills which will put up further obstacles for women who are getting abortions. Only a veto by Governor Lawton Chiles will prevent these restrictions from becoming Florida law. To encourage Chiles to veto the bills, Planned Parenthood is holding a press conference at noon on Wednesday, May 21 at the downtown community plaza. Gainesville Area National Organization for Women, Campus NOW, Gainesville Women's Liberation and the Gainesville Women's Health Center will join them in objecting to the bills and urging Chiles to veto them.

The misnamed "Woman's Right to Know Act" would require a doctor to read a state-written pro-adoption script to women who want abortions. The press and advocates of the bill label this measure 'informed consent,' but in fact it is quite different since informed consent already applies to all medical procedures, including abortion. This bill specifies what will be said, and requires that a doctor--not nursing staff or counselors--read it to the patient. No other medical procedure has a required script mandated by the legislature and no other medical procedure has the requirement that only a doctor can read it to a patient. During the drafting of the legislation, abortion rights activists managed to get legislators to remove the requirement for a waiting period from the bill.

Abortion providers and feminists point out that the main result of this bill will be that price of abortions will rise, since a doctor is required to provide the counseling. The script would include telling a woman the names and addresses of adoption agencies in the area. While the legislature mandates what would be in the script, the State Health and Human Services Department would write the final version. Doctors who are willing to do abortions for a price most women can afford are few and far between, and this has been made more difficult by the threats and murders of doctors who do provide abortions. No such information is given to women who are pregnant about the risks of childbirth, which is more painful and five times more life threatening than an abortion at 12 weeks pregnancy, according to Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women's Health Book Collective, 1992).

This price rise will put abortion out of reach of more women, since women are already denied abortion by the cost of the procedure. Medicaid does not cover it, nor do many health insurance policies. A first-trimester abortion costs $300-400 and a second trimester abortion costs $400-1,900, depending on the stage of the pregnancy. Abortion providers report that many women call to get abortions, but cannot get one when they discover the price. For some, it is a race against time to raise the money. Others have no option but to bear a child when they don't want to.

Feminists also say that the bill is condescending and discriminatory because it assumes that women can't make their own decisions but have to be "informed" by the state that they have the option of bringing the pregnancy to term, giving birth and giving a child up for adoption. As one abortion counselor said, "Women know the options, that's why they're here to get an abortion." Furthermore, abortion is very popular among women, and in polls up to 80% of people, both men and women, support some form of abortion rights. Abortion is legal now because women went out in the streets in great numbers in the late '60's and early '70's demanding the right to legal, safe and free abortions.

Florida D&X ban
While the script provision will affect many more women, information about it has been eclipsed by furor over the second bill, a ban on the dilation and extraction procedure (D&X), the misnamed "partial birth abortion." This bill targets women who need an abortion after the 20th week and whose doctors decide that this is the safest procedure.

The legislature has picked out one medical procedure to ban, and punishes doctors who have the audacity to do what is best for their patient. At this point it is unclear whether the charges against the doctor would be criminal or civil. The California Medical Association, reacting last year to the federal anti-D&X bill, said the legislation "would create an unwarranted intrusion into the physician patient relationship by preventing physicians from providing necessary medical care." The bill does not allow for the D&X procedure even in cases where not doing it would put the health of the woman at risk, but only cases where it would save her life. A similar Ohio law banning the D&X procedure was thrown out by a federal court, which said that it conflicted with Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision which prevents states from restricting abortion in the first 2 trimesters.

"It is important to recognize this legislation for exactly what it is--an attempt to ban and criminalize all abortions and repeal Roe v. Wade," says Patricia Lassiter, director of the Gainesville Women's Health Center.

National D&X attacks
A national D&X ban has been passed by both houses of Congress and and is expected to reach Clinton's desk in mid-late May. Clinton has said he will veto it, as he did a similar bill last year, because it does not contain a provision for cases where the health of the woman is at stake. However, during the Senate debate, Democratic Senator Tom Daschle (S.D.) proposed that all abortions be banned after "fetal viability" which is a changeable date based on medicine's ability to sometimes keep terribly premature infants alive in incubators. The amendment failed.

Nonetheless, Clinton has said that he would not veto the measure had Daschle's amendment passed, presumably because it allowed a woman to get an abortion after 'viability' if her life is in danger or she is at risk of "grievous injury" to her physical health. Alarmingly, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) proposed an amendment which was the same as Daschle's but allowed for an abortion if a woman faced "serious adverse health consequences" which apparently differed in that it might allow for abortion in cases of mental distress. But, feminists argue, the fact that a fetus might survive were it born prematurely has nothing to do with whether the woman who's pregnant with it is willing to carry it to term and bear it.

Feminists say expand rights
Feminists reject all these proposals and call for more women to have access to abortion, not fewer. At a Campus NOW speakout in Gainesville in March '96, women talked about their abortions and advocated for more abortion rights. "There's a whole portion of the population for which abortion is mythical, it might as well not even exist. So what if the Supreme Court said you can have an abortion. If you can't afford it, it just doesn't exist for you" said Abby Goldsmith. She advocated that abortion be free.

Alex Leader of Gainesville Women's Liberation said, "It's our right to have an abortion without consequences if we want to, and we must join together and fight the current second trimester rollbacks... I don't mean that abortion is our right because it's a law. I mean abortion is women's right because we have a right to control our own reproduction, the physical work of carrying a fetus in our bodies and giving birth to it, work that only women can do."

Abortions are made more expensive and less available by the many restrictions already imposed on them. Medical schools such as Shands don't require that students--even students in gynecology--learn to give abortions. Because of the Hyde Amendment, women in the military and military dependents, and those who get their health care under Medicaid, are not covered. Abortions are not performed in military or Catholic hospitals, and 83% of counties don't have any abortion facilities, making women travel long distances to get an abortion. While midwives can deliver babies, no one but a doctor can perform an abortion, a much less risky procedure.

When the Supreme Court's Webster decision in 1989 allowed states more ability to restrict certain groups of women from getting abortions, Florida's Governor Bob Martinez called a special legislative session to restrict abortion. More than 10,000 women and men from all over the state, organized by NOW, descended on Tallahassee and proved that even when a Republican governor and a conservative Supreme Court conspire to take away women's rights, people power can hold the day. No restrictions were passed, and women in Florida continue to benefit from feminist organizing for abortion, which holds back abortion restrictions today.

Chiles can veto
As of May 19, the Florida bills were headed for Chiles' desk. The Governor has fifteen days to either sign or veto the two bills, but he may take action immediately. Therefore it is important for feminists and abortion rights activists to call Chiles' office (904) 488-4441 and ask him to veto both the "partial birth abortion ban" and the "woman's right to know act." According to legislature watchers, he is wavering on both bills. People power can win the day again.

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