TALLAHASSEE – Most abortion laws are controversial. A bill making its way through Florida House banning “Abortions of Persons with Disabilities” is no exception – especially for the disabled community.
But it is less the “abortion” part of the bill that is a problem for some in this community. It’s more the “disability” part.
The bill, House Bill 1221, would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion in a case where he knows or “should know” that a woman is seeking the procedure “solely on the basis of” a disability or potential disability of the fetus. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and is part of a national effort to restrict access to abortion in these cases. At least nine states have laws that prohibit abortion in similar circumstances. Most of these laws have been legally challenged.
Proponents of this effort say there is a moral imperative to prohibit “disability abortions,” which they compare to eugenics – the bigoted practice of improving the human gene pool by removing genetic traits that are viewed as undesirable from the population .
On Thursday, Grall’s bill will be discussed in the house. It could go by this week. Bill is unlikely to pass this year, however, as a companion measure sponsored by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami, was first referred to a committee chaired by Democrat Lauren Book. It never got a hearing there.
When asked why their bill did not go through the Senate, Rodriguez said, “This is a great question and I have no answer.”
Some advocates of people with disabilities say the bill advocating for a marginalized community is just lip service to the idea. For example, these proponents question the definition of disability law: “Any disease, defect, or disorder that is genetically inherited.” (Following this definition, the bill lists several example conditions: Down syndrome; scoliosis; dwarfism; albinism, etc.)
Olivia Babis, a senior public policy analyst with Disability Rights Florida advocacy group, and herself a person with a disability, said the definition does not do justice to people with disabilities. Babis said that the definition of disability varies depending on the context. Babis feels comfortable in her own home and has the accommodation she needs. She needs more help elsewhere. A better definition, according to Babis, would be a condition that makes it impossible for a person to engage in one or more activities of daily living.
“It feels more like a list of stigmatized populations that we can determine in the womb than a definition of actual disability,” Babis said.
Neither Grall nor her office responded to requests for comment. However, she faced many of the same criticisms enumerated by disability advocates like Babis when the bill found its way through two House committees. In these committees, the criticisms of democratic opponents of the bill were raised.
For example, in response to criticism of the definition of “disability” in her draft law, Grall said she did not want to belittle the disabled community.
“The language in this bill is not intended to be shameful at all, and if anything, is intended to stop the fact that each of these various disabilities is something we value,” said Grall.
Valrico’s Laura Minutello, who has cerebral palsy, said in an interview that she was at high risk of being abandoned because her birth mother was addicted. She noted that, like any segment of the American population, the disabled community has different views on abortion.
But Minutello said Grall’s bill is tough to settle because Florida doesn’t provide enough safety net for people who need additional housing.
“It’s not so much that I, or anyone I know, really disagrees with the intent of the bill. Rather, it is that we, within the disabled community, feel that they need to be given the support to truly appreciate the lives of people with disabilities, the things that everyone else has, ”said Minutello.
Babis noted that she was requesting special housing from the house to give practical testimony on the Disability Abortion Act at the start of the legislative process. The disabled attorney said she was particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and she didn’t want to risk getting infected during a trip to the Capitol – where multiple lawmakers contracted the virus. Although government officials and other advocates were allowed to testify practically on bills at Florida House, Babis’ motion was denied.
Florida also has tens of thousands of people on its waiting list for services provided under the state’s iBudget waiver. The Medicaid-sponsored program funds home services, often costly, for people with developmental disabilities.
This year the Senate and House of Representatives are currently haggling over funding to get more people off the waiting list. The House has proposed spending $ 15 million to remove 306 more people from the list.
But proponents say more could be done. The state could offer a program that enables working people with disabilities to participate in the state’s Medicaid program. Legislators could spend more money to get more people off the waiting list. You could also fund more vocational training initiatives for people with disabilities or spend more money on remodeling programs.
At a committee hearing earlier this month, Grall criticized her abortion law for not doing enough for the disabled community. She said she agreed on this point.
“I consider myself a lawyer for people with disabilities and I understand and appreciate that the system is a patchwork quilt,” said Grall. “That is outside the scope of my bill, but it is not outside of my heart for what we as legislators have to do.”
There are also people in the disabled community who say that anti-abortion efforts like Grall’s contradict the movement for disability rights – which is about physical autonomy.
Robyn Powell, assistant professor at Stetson University College of Law, studies the interface between abortion and reproductive rights. She also has arthrogryposis, a condition in which she has limited use of her arms and legs.
Powell argued that as with any abortion restriction, banning abortion from disabilities would do the least harm to happiness the most. Wealthy abortion seekers, she claimed, could still have access to an abortion, and they would be more likely to have the legal flair to circumvent this ban. Or they could travel to another state to conduct the procedure.
“I see in these bills the use of disability as a justification for removing abortion rights,” Powell said.
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Legislation coverage of the Tampa Bay Times Florida
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