The Next Assaults on Access to Reproductive Health Care

This op-ed was originally published in Tallahassee Democrat.

This current Florida legislature continues its all-out attack on reproductive freedom and access to abortion care.

A six-week ban was not far enough for this extreme anti-abortion legislature. 

Now they are seeking to open the door to civil lawsuits for money damages against doctors, and against the friends, family, clergy and other support systems that help individuals seeking abortion care obtain the care they need. (See House Bill 651). 

But it’s worse: Senate Bill 476, as originally filed, would go even further and also allow civil lawsuits for money damages to be brought against Floridians for their own abortion.

Extremist politicians have also filed a total abortion ban -- from the moment of fertilization – and that would eliminate any exceptions for rape or incest or human trafficking. (House Bill 1519)

Some of these bills are being fast-tracked through the legislature. HB 651 was only referred to two committees in the House and has already passed one of them, with 12 votes in favor and 5 votes in opposition. Time is of the essence to slow these bills down.

Consider HB 651, by Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, as well as its Senate companion SB 476, by Sen. Erin Grall. While the House bill sponsor stated that these bills have nothing to do with abortion, the fact that they were filed by the same duo that brought us the extreme 6-week ban last Session suggests otherwise.  

These deceptive bills are another example of how legislators are continuing to make it more difficult for Floridians to access the care they need. They incentivize and encourage civil lawsuits against doctors providing essential health care by allowing plaintiffs to recover money damages.

The intent is to intimidate doctors and make them fearful of providing abortion care by threatening them with lawsuits. This will lead to doctors denying necessary healthcare and will increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications not being timely addressed. This could have grave impacts on the overall health and safety of those patients needing care.

Additionally, the threat of having to defend against lawsuits and having to pay money damages will likely result in fewer OB/GYNs willing to practice in Florida. As more and more OB/GYNs leave Florida for states where they are not subject to civil lawsuits, the quality of prenatal care in Florida will suffer. 

Because these bills also encourage lawsuits against the friends, family, and support systems of pregnant Floridians, they will result in pregnant patients being more isolated and afraid to seek help from friends and family members for fear of exposing them to potential lawsuits.

Nobody should be subject to a civil lawsuit for damages for seeking the healthcare they need. Not the individual seeking their own health care, not their doctor for providing the care their patients need, and not friends and family members assisting with accessing such care. 

Under these bills, civil lawsuits for damages could be brought by any person who impregnates someone else. Additionally, there is no definition of “unborn child” in the bill’s language. It’s unclear whether a cause of action accrues at the moment of fertilization or sometime after. 

Despite the intent the sponsor claims to have, that these bills are meant to support grieving families, Floridians will not be duped. The devastating impact of these bills on abortion access in Florida is clear.

Anti-abortion politicians aren’t satisfied with criminalizing abortion after six weeks. Left to their own devices, our Legislature will continue to make it harder and harder to access abortion care in Florida.

The good news is that this is an election year. We know how every one of Florida’s representatives and senators voted on the six-week ban and we will soon see how they vote on these bills, if they make it to the floor.

Floridians will take that knowledge to the polls in November.