House bill 321, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, filed yesterday by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, represents the first time the Florida legislature has filed a bill to restrict abortion beyond 20 weeks. Pro-choice advocates say a national movement to pass similar bills in other states amounts to an effort to weaken Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that limited states’ abilities to restrict abortion.
House bill 321, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, filed yesterday by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, represents the first time the Florida legislature has filed a bill to restrict abortion beyond 20 weeks.
Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates said today that reproductive rights advocates take any attempt to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that limited states’ abilities to restrict abortion, very seriously.
“Given the state’s current legislative climate, there is a good chance this bill could pass,” Kunkel said.
Trujillo’s bill claims that “there is substantial evidence that an unborn child has the physical structures necessary to experience pain.” As the Independent reported yesterday, however, some medical experts dispute whether such scientific evidence exists.
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation told the Independent there is a national movement to pass this type of bill in states across the country.
In 2010 Nebraska governor David Heineman signed the first “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” into law.
Kunkel said, “a very similar bill [to the Nebraska bill] has been introduced in six other states including Florida, so one has to wonder if this is the next tool in the anti-choice arsenal at chipping away at Roe v. Wade.”
Carrie Eisnaugle, president of Florida Right to Life (FRTL), an affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, said her organization supports Trujillo’s bill because it “humanizes” the fetus, an important issue for anti-abortion organizations.
Eisnaugle added that Rep. Trujillo has been in contact with National Right to Life, and while he initially filed without help from NRLC or FRTL, the Florida chapter is now copied on all of Trujillo’s communications regarding the bill.
Saporta responded that the claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks is “contrary to credible scientific evidence.” Those who make the claim “want to dissuade women from having an abortion and pass legislation that restricts women’s access to abortion care,” she added.
Kunkel, of Planned Parenthood, agreed. “What we know is that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 2010 review of evidence concludes that a fetus cannot experience pain before 24 weeks,” she said, adding that HB321, therefore, has no scientific need.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists did not respond to inquiries from the Independent about the issue.
Kunkel pointed out that another important issue is what is not in this bill.
“There is no exemption in this bill for fetal anomaly,” Kunkel explained. “So [if this bill passes] a woman who discovers her fetus has an anomaly could fly out of the state to get an abortion or what is more likely, be forced to carry that pregnancy to term.”
Jennifer Comb,s a registered nurse practitioner, said fetal anomalies are “not necessarily life-threatening, but then you can have a life-threatening anomaly where a baby only has a brain stem, is missing the rest of the brain, or [has] complex congenital heart defects.”
For Saporta, “responsible medicine requires that patients and doctors make informed decisions based on accurate, unbiased information, and this bill is not based on accurate scientifically accurate information. This bill is aimed at decreasing women’s access to abortion care.”
Rep. Trujillo’s office told the Independent he will respond to our questions on his bill on Friday.
Lawyers for Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning and Gov. Rick Scott have responded to the ACLU's efforts to block implementation of a controversial set of changes to state elections laws. A ruling on the ACLU's motion is expected any day now.