FL House Republicans vote to ban abortions when prenatal tests reveal disabilities

By: - April 23, 2021 3:27 pm

Rep. Robin Bartleman, whose second pregnancy ended in tragedy, tells Florida legislators they have no right to intervene in intimate decisions about bearing or aborting a disabled fetus. Screenshot: The Florida Channel

A woman carrying a fetus diagnosed with a genetic disorder would not be allowed to terminate the pregnancy under a proposed law backed by Republicans and approved Friday in the GOP-controlled Florida House of Representatives.

Democrats denounced the plan, saying it lets government usurp an intimate decision by such a woman and predicting it would be found unconstitutional in court challenges that are sure to come.

The proposal, House Bill 1221, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall and 12 other House Republicans, would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion if he or she knows or should know that the patient wants to terminate the pregnancy “solely on the basis of a test result or diagnosis” showing the fetus to have a genetically inherited disability.

Violations would subject the doctor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

It defines those as a physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, amelia, or a physical or mental disease.

The prohibition would not apply if the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life.

The House bill, adopted 74-44 over Democratic opposition, has no counterpart in the Florida Senate but still could be taken up in that chamber if it so chooses. Next week is the final week of the regular legislative session.

“All lives matter, always. We have a duty to protect innocent life,” said Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Duval County Republican, who cited Bible passages in his support of the bill.

Rep. Grall said it is wrong for anyone to decide the future quality of life of a fetus, regardless of medical indications.

“We won’t hear from the boys and girls who are never given the opportunity to determine whether or not their quality of life is adequate, and that is who I ask you to stand for today,” said Grall, a Republican representing parts of Indian River and St. Lucie counties.

Rep. Robin Bartleman, a special-education teacher and mother of two, trembled and shed tears as she described on the House floor her tragic second pregnancy.

She said she and her husband were informed the fetus she was carrying was severely deformed and they should contemplate whether to abort. Before they reached a decision, the fetus died in utero. Bartleman, a Broward County Democrat, implored House members not to assume a legal role in making that excruciating decision.

“That was my decision. That was my husband’s decision. That was a pregnancy that we prayed for, worked for, I had hormone treatments for. Don’t insert yourself into my family’s decision,” Bartleman said, visibly shaking. “This was such a personal, personal, personal decision. Please stay out of our decisions when it comes to this. None of us want our children to be in pain.”

Rep. Allison Tant, mother of a severely disabled adult child, said her family has the resources to withstand the lifelong challenges and expenses of caring for her son, but that many families do not.

“It’s about supporting these families,” Tant said. “I was determined to have this baby or die trying. Every family must have the right to make their own decision.”

Republican Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff of Volusia County said that she, herself, might have been aborted because of birth defects diagnosed in utero, but her mother refused. She survived groundbreaking surgery after being born at the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, she said.

“She chose life, and I stand before you today, a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing my district and working to provide the best quality of life for all Floridians, including those with disabilities,” Fetterhoff said.

While banning disability abortions, the House bill also mandates the state provide educational information about prenatal genetic disorders and resources available to families of disabled children; and requires a health care practitioner who orders or administers a prenatal screening or diagnostic test to provide the patient with that information if the test results indicate a genetic disorder.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.