Florida Disability Abortion Bill Should Not Pass
Most abortion bills are controversial. A bill submitted to Florida House that would ban “disability abortions” is no exception – especially for the disability community.
But it is less the “abortion” part of the bill that is a problem for some in this community. It’s more the “handicap” part.
House bill 1221 would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion in a case where he or she knows or “should know” that a woman requests the procedure “solely on the basis” of a handicap or potential handicap observed in the fetus. Sponsored by Representative Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, the bill is part of a national effort to restrict access to abortion in these cases. At least nine states have laws prohibiting abortion in similar circumstances; most of these laws have been legally challenged.
Supporters of these efforts say it is a moral imperative to ban “disability abortions,” which they equate with eugenics – the sectarian practice of striving to improve the human gene pool by removing the traits. genetics considered undesirable in the population.
Grall’s bill is expected to be debated in the House on Thursday. It could pass this week. However, it is unlikely to become law this year as a follow-up measure sponsored by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami, was first referred to a committee chaired by Democrat Lauren Book. There was never a hearing.
When asked why his bill had not gained popularity in the Senate, Rodriguez replied, “That’s a great question, and I don’t have the answer.
Some disability advocates say the bill, which purports to defend a marginalized community, is lip service. For example, these advocates challenge the definition of disability in the bill: “any disease, anomaly or inherited disorder”. (After this definition, the bill then lists several examples of conditions: Down syndrome, scoliosis, dwarfism, albinism, etc.)
Olivia Babis, senior public policy analyst with advocacy group Disability Rights Florida, and herself a person with a disability, said this definition does not do justice to people with disabilities. Babis said the definition of disability varies depending on the context. In her own house, Babis is comfortable and has the accommodation she needs. Elsewhere, she needs more help. A better definition, Babis argued, would be a condition which leaves a person unable to perform one or more activities of daily living.
“It sounds more like a list of stigmatized populations that we can determine in utero than a definition of actual disability,” Babis said.
Neither Grall nor his office responded to requests for comment. However, she faced many of the same criticisms listed by disability advocates like Babis as the bill made its way through two House committees. In these committees, criticism was leveled by Democratic opponents of the bill.
For example, in response to criticism of the definition of “disability” in her bill, Grall said she did not want to demean the disability community.
“The wording of this bill is not meant to be disgraceful at all, and on the contrary, it is meant to retain the fact that each of these different disabilities is something we value,” said Grall.
Laura Minutello de Valrico, who suffers from cerebral palsy, said in an interview that she was at high risk of an abortion because her birth mother was addicted to drugs. She noted that, like any segment of the American population, the disability community has a diverse set of perspectives on abortion.
But Minutello said Grall’s bill was hard to match given Florida’s record of not providing enough safety net for people who need additional accommodation.
“It’s not so much that I or anyone I know really disagrees with the intent of the bill, it’s more that within the disability community we think to really value life people with disabilities, you have to give them the support and the things that everyone else has, ”Minutello said.
Babis noted that she had requested special accommodation from the House to virtually testify on the disability abortion bill earlier in the legislative process. The disability advocate said she was particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and did not want to risk being infected while traveling to Capitol Hill – where several lawmakers contracted the virus. Even though heads of state agencies and other attorneys were allowed to testify virtually on bills at Florida House, Babis’ request was denied.
Florida also has tens of thousands of people on its waiting list for services provided under the state’s iBudget waiver. This Medicaid-supported program funds – often expensive – home care services for people with developmental disabilities.
This year, the Senate and the House are fighting over funding to take more people off the waiting list. The House has proposed spending $ 15 million to remove 306 more people from the list.
But advocates say more could be done. The state could offer a program that allows disabled workers to participate in the state’s Medicaid program. Lawmakers could spend even more money to take even more people off the waiting list. They could also fund more job training initiatives for people with disabilities or spend more money on home modification programs.
Grall responded to criticism that his abortion bill had not done enough for the disability community during a committee hearing earlier this month. She said she agreed on this point.
“I see myself as an advocate for people with disabilities and I understand and appreciate that the system is a patchwork,” Grall said at the time. “It is beyond the scope of my bill, but it does not matter to me about what we need to do as a legislature.
There are also people in the disability community who say that anti-abortion efforts like Grall’s are antithetical to the disability rights movement – which they say is about bodily autonomy.
Robyn Powell, Visiting Assistant Professor at Stetson University College of Law, studies the intersection of abortion and reproductive rights. She also suffers from arthrogryposis, a condition that leaves her with limited use of her arms and legs.
Powell argued that, like any restriction on abortion, a ban on “disability abortion” would do the most harm to those most in need. Well-off abortion seekers, she argued, could still have access to an abortion, and they would be more likely to have the legal knowledge to circumvent this ban. Or they could travel to another state to complete the process.
“I see these bills as using disability as a justification to take away the right to abortion,” said Powell.