Archive for the 'Reproductive Freedom' Category

Report: Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era

The ACLU of Florida has just issued a report entitled, “Protecting the Rights of Floridians in the Rick Scott Era: A Two-Year Report on Combatting Assaults by the Legislature and the Administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Civil Liberties,” which illustrates the work the ACLU and other organizations have undertaken to defend civil rights in Florida over  the last two years.

“In order to defend the rights of Floridians from their own state government, the ACLU of Florida was involved in nine lawsuits challenging Gov. Scott’s policies and legislative attacks on civil liberties[.]”

Among the issues listed in the report were:

  • the right to vote,
  • the right to be free from unreasonable searches,
  • religious freedom and the separation of church and state,
  • women’s rights and reproductive freedom,
  • an independent judiciary, and
  • freedom of speech.

The report was released at the halfway point of Governor Rick Scott’s term and before the new session of the Florida legislature gets under way.

“With the 2012 elections behind us and the 2014 gubernatorial election  already effectively begun,  it appears that the Governor is attempting to moderate his views to make them palatable,” said ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

“But no public relations campaign can paper over the picture described in our report,” continued Simon, “that for the last two years, whether it has been the right to vote, freedom from unreasonable searches by government officials, women’s rights, the protection of personal privacy, religious freedom or freedom of speech, the ACLU has had to protect Floridians from a wide-ranging assault on their rights by their own Legislature and Governor.”

Download the report. (PDF)


ACLU recognizes Defenders of Women’s Rights

Ron Bilbao, Senior Legislative Associate and Advocacy Coordinator

Joyce Hamilton Henry, ACLU of Florida Mid-FL Regional Director, presents the award to Representative Reed.

In 2012, Florida joined fifteen other states in establishing explicit protections in state statutes for incarcerated pregnant women. The effort was championed by two tireless and steadfast Florida legislators – Senator Arthenia Joyner and Representative Betty Reed – both from Tampa.

Moving this legislation through both chambers of the legislature, maneuvering through the resistant waters of the legislative process, battling against the tide of sometimes tough opposition from representatives of both law enforcement and corrections agencies, and negotiating with each committee chair along the way was no easy task. The resolve of these two women shines through in their success in pulling together so many others to stand behind them in passing this bill, from the Speaker of the House all the way to a grassroots coalition of advocates urging its passage.


Sen. Joyner and ACLU of Florida Mid Florida Regional Director, Joyce Hamilton-Henry

Representative Reed told me that she wanted to pass this bill because it was “all about the babies.” She grew up the oldest of her siblings and had to care for them when her mother passed away. She remembered the young ones being helpless and needing all the care she could give. She read the stories that came into the ACLU office about the women shackled in Florida’s jails and she dedicated two years to ensuring no woman or baby would have to suffer because of this cruel and archaic practice. Both Sen. Joyner and Rep. Reed knew what was at stake in passing this bill – not just the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women, but the dignity of all pregnant women in our society. These legislators exemplify the essence of that dignity.

This year, the ACLU of Florida recognizes Sen. Arthenia Joyner and Rep. Betty Reed as the 2012 Defenders of Women’s Rights.

Ending “Florida’s dirty shameful secret”

ImageMaria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

It was Florida’s dirty shameful secret:  for decades, Florida women who entered jail when pregnant often gave birth under extraordinarily inhumane conditions, with their hands and feet cuffed, and sometimes, with leg irons.  Doctors’ and nurses’ pleas to remove the restraints fell on deaf ears, as the corrections officers called the shots.

 In 2009, I received a letter from a woman in jail on the west coast of Florida; she told me that during labor, both of her hands and one foot were cuffed to the hospital bedrails.  During active labor, when it was time to push, she couldn’t pull up on her legs.  Ask any obstetrical nurse or physician:  that’s bad for the woman, and bad for the baby.  Then, after her baby was born, her handcuffs prevented her from holding her newborn.  Again – bad for the woman; bad for the baby.  

 This was just one letter I received from women in jail – there were many others, all of which told the same stories of the woman’s restraint during labor, delivery, and recovery.  Not all county jails subscribed to this cruel practice:  some had compassionate birthing practices that involved midwives and doulas.  However, there were no uniform guidelines, no statewide standards.  Whether a woman was shackled during labor and delivery depended on where she was incarcerated, and whether the corrections officer showed any compassion.

 But thanks to a bill awaiting Governor Scott’s approval, that’s all going to change.  The bill, sponsored in 2012 by Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) and Rep. Betty Reed (D-Tampa) is named the “Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act,” and bans the use of restraints on prisoners during labor, delivery, and recovery unless they present a true security risk or flight risk.  In 2011, the bill, sponsored by then-Senator Tony Hill and Rep. Reed, passed the Florida Senate unanimously but stalled in the House.

Jail is a terrible place to be pregnant.  Now, however, women in Florida’s jails who have the misfortune of giving birth during their jail terms will at least be free of the hobbling restraints that were the norm rather than the exception across Florida.  Better for the women; better for their babies.  Thank you, Senators Joyner, Hill, and Rep. Reed, on behalf of all the women behind bars who can’t convey to you their personal thanks. We’ll tell them how you, and the entire Florida Legislature, stood up for them and their babies.


Guest Post: Legislature Adjourns Without Passing A Single Anti-Abortion Bill

Guest Contributor: Martha Jackovics
Beach Peanuts

UterusDespite all the legislation from last year’s session of the Florida Legislature aimed at blocking abortions in the state, no abortion bills were passed in the 2012 session, but not for lack of trying. Ten anti-abortion bills were introduced this year, compared to 18 bills introduced last year.

Considering the push against women’s health issues and abortion throughout the country in states controlled by Republicans, this was a win for women’s health in Florida.

Consider last year’s session:

Abortion bills from 2011:

ABORTION — CHOOSE LIFE (Passed): Proceeds from Choose Life license plates will go to Choose Life Inc. for assisting pregnant women, instead of counties. (SB 196/HB 501)

ABORTION — HEALTH CARE EXCHANGES (Passed): Health care plans created through the federal health care law cannot offer coverage for abortions. (SB 1414/HB 97)

ABORTION — PARENTAL NOTIFICATION (Passed): Requires minors seeking a judicial waiver for parental notification of an abortion to get the waiver in district court rather than a wider-reaching appeals court. (SB 1770/HB 1247)

ABORTION — THIRD-TRIMESTER BAN (Failed): Expands ban on third-trimester abortions to include viability of the fetus. Doctors who perform abortions would be required to receive ethics training. (SB 1748/HB 1397)

ABORTION — ULTRASOUND (Passed): Women preparing to undergo an abortion must be offered the opportunity to have the results and images of an ultrasound explained to them. Woman can decline to see the image. (SB 1744/HB 1127)

During the 2012 session, at least ten anti-abortion bills were introduced. Among them, one introduced by Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant which would have made it a felony to perform an abortion unless strict criteria were met, and with no exceptions for rape or incest.  Another would have outlawed race and sex based abortions. The “fetal pain” bill was introduced, which would have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks. There was also a bill that women’s health advocates called an “omnibus anti-choice bill” because it contained several measures that would make it harder for women to obtain a legal abortions and harder for providers to provide the legal service.

The race and sex based abortion bill was introduced despite the lack of  evidence that such a thing occurs, and it was much the same with the fetal pain bill. The fetal pain bill would have made no exceptions in the case of rape or incest, even though research on whether a fetus can feel pain have been deemed neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound.

The Omnibus abortion bill, a final attempt to “clean up” several parts of abortion bills that didn’t pass last year also failed. The bill also contained the failed fetal pain measure from this year.

As the session adjourned, Planned Parenthood released the following statement:

Tonight the Florida Legislature formally adjourned the 2012 Legislative Session without passing any legislation that would limit women’s access to essential health care services.

“We are encouraged that legislators put women’s health before politics by rejecting efforts to target health centers that provide the reproductive health care and family planning services that women need,” said Judith Selzer, Vice President for Public Policy at the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.  “Given that Floridians continue to be plagued by the lagging economy and a growing lack of access to health care, legislators must continue to reject attempts to make it even harder for women to access health care services.”

This is not to say they won’t be back at it next session. Outside of the legislature, there’s also another attempt at the push for a “Personhood” amendment looming for 2014.

But at least for now, on the close of this year’s legislative session, this is a win for women’s health in Florida.

Guest Post: So Much for “No” on Everything

Guest Contributor: Peter Schorsch
Executive Editor, SaintPetersBlog

For a moment there, Florida progressives had a winning strategy to defeat several ballot initiatives to be decided this November.

In the progressive’s crosshairs were several proposed measures, including one to prohibit the use of public funds for abortions except as required by federal law and to save the mother’s life and the “Religious Freedom” amendment which would prevent individuals from being barred from participating in public programs if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider.

All told, there are now 11 constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot.

Organizing and preparing for November, progressives arrived at a simple, smart strategy to defeat these and the other amendments they opposed.  ‘Vote No on Everything’ was the basic concept. Think of it as the political equivalent of Occam’s razor.

Unfortunately, these best laid plans are already for naught.

The Legislature on Friday placed on the 2012 ballot two constitutional amendments that would cut property taxes if approved by voters.

One of the amendments would eliminate property taxes for the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died while on duty or for the surviving spouse of a police officer, firefighter, paramedic or correctional officer killed while on duty.

The other amendment would eliminate property taxes for poor seniors who have lived in their home for at least 25 years.

Who can vote against these initiatives?  Who’s going to oppose helping poor seniors or veterans’ widows? No one, that’s who.

And so Florida progressives’ plan to urge voters to  ‘Vote No on Everything’ no longer works.  After all, you can’t create a bumper sticker which reads  ‘Vote No on Everything Except the Good Stuff.’

Or can you?

Tallahasee and the “Righteous War”

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

They call it a “righteous war.”

That’s how one representative on the floor of the Florida House actually described the nationwide attack on women’s health that the Florida legislature has thrown its weight behind. I was sitting in the House Gallery when he said it. This week, I’ve had a front-row seat to see what this war looks like.

For the last four days, I’ve been in Tallahassee working with the ACLU of Florida’s Senior Legislative Associate, Ron Bilbao. In these busy last two weeks of the 2012 Legislative Session, bills are moving quickly out of committees, and legislators are staying on the floor late into the night trying to get their priorities passed. We’ve been working hard to make sure that voices of Floridians that care about the Constitution and the personal freedoms which it protects are still being heard during the frantic end of the session.

It hasn’t always been easy.  Yesterday, the House passed a bill which would let school districts alienate religious minority students by forcing them to participate in school-sponsored prayer at student events. Despite claims by the bill’s sponsor that it wasn’t about religion, just “inspirational messages,” Governor Rick Scott supported the bill by saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.”

Of course, individuals have always had a right to say a prayer in school – but the Constitution doesn’t allow government to use its power to advance one religion over another, which is exactly what this bill lets districts do.

Constitutionality hasn’t been at the front of many legislators’ minds from what I’ve seen. This week also saw the passage of a bill that would expand suspiconless, warrantless drug testing of state employees, even while a federal judge could issue a ruling declaring the whole idea of government employee drug testing unconstitutional any day now. They also passed a bill banning the “application of foreign law,” code for Shariah law, singling out Muslim Floridians as inherently a threat to law and order and advancing the ugly and discriminatory notion that anything Islamic is un-American.

And then of course, there’s the bill which passed the House yesterday which would shame and intimidate women with junk medical science and further regulate women’s access to safe and legal abortion care out of existence – the “righteous war” one.

It’s not all hopeless. In my time at the capitol I’ve met with legislative staff and other advocates who are working hard to stop the assaults on freedom and protect the rights of the people of Florida. We’ve been able to provide them with information and resources to help them protect your rights. Together, we may yet be able to stop some of these bills from passing in the Senate. In fact, you still have a chance to send a message to your Senators letting them know that you trust Florida women and want the war on women’s health to stop.

The defenders of freedom may be outnumbered at the Capitol, but they are fighting hard for all of us. They understand something that many of their coworkers don’t: there’s nothing righteous about a war on people’s rights.

Tell the legislature: “I trust Florida women, so should you.”

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you know that women are facing an unprecedented nationwide attack. Now, anti-reproductive-rights forces in the Florida legislature have joined the war on women’s health with a House committee passing what may be the most dangerous attack on women’s access to abortion care in recent Florida history.

Tell the Florida legislature to stop playing doctor and trust Florida women to make their own private medical decisions.

The bill passed yesterday began as a targeted attack on medical facilities that provide abortion care to women, placing restrictive regulations on these clinics that no other kind of medical facility faces — an effort to regulate clinics that provide reproductive health services out of existence. But last-minute amendments require doctors to give their patients “medical advice” based on the junk science of “fetal pain” which has been debunked by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and is designed to intimidate and shame women.

Deciding whether and when to become a parent is one of the most private and important decisions a person can make. Because no two women’s situations are the same, the decision should be made by her, her family, and her doctor — not by politicians. No government should force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if she has decided she can’t.

If the legislature passes this bill or its companion in the Senate, it would be a crowning achievement to those who want government to intrude into the doctor-patient relationship and ignore the individual needs and situations of each woman.

The war on women’s health must stop. Tell Florida legislators to trust women to know what’s best for their futures and families.