By Jan Halisky, Florida Right to Life Vice-President for Legislative Affairs
The Florida Legislative Session just ended on May 3rd, and we thought you would like to have a summary of the results from a pro-life perspective. We want to thank everyone who contacted legislators during the session. We were told that communications from pro-lifers were voluminous. Thus, for the successes that we had, we must thank you above all. And thank you for your prayers that God would direct our Senators and representatives to do the right thing.
Now here is how we viewed the outcome of the bills we worked against and those we supported.
FLORIDA RIGHT TO LIFE 2019 LEGISLATIVE SUMMARY
THE BILLS WE OPPOSED
Exempting the Terminally Ill from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program
SB-592 (Albritton); HB-375 (Pigman)
A PARTIAL VICTORY
Until this 2019 legislative session, before a hospice or doctor could prescribe or dispense opioids to a patient, he had to first check to see the quantity of opioids which had already recently been given, so that the patient was not overdosed. As originally worded, SB-592/HB-375 proposed to do away with such prechecks if the patient is “terminally ill,” or if the patient has an “incurable, progressive illness or injury.” This latter category refers to chronic illnesses where patients may live indefinitely if properly treated. Thus, the number of vulnerable people set up for potential covert euthanasia – even those who are not dying – would be greatly expanded. Moreover, the supporters of the bill lied to the legislators about its scope, saying that it dealt only with the “terminally ill.”
When SB-592 came before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, FRTL speakers reiterated to the subcommittee members that they had been deceived about the bill’s true intent. The subcommittee chairman brought in a Senate attorney who confirmed what FRTL was saying. Clearly angry about this attempt to pull the wool over their eyes, the subcommittee voted then and there to strike from the bill the language referring to “an incurable, progressive illness or injury,” that is, people with chronic illnesses. This was a major victory for us because it meant that a much larger category of vulnerable people would continue to be protected from opioid overdoses. The bill as amended was 80% better than it had been.
Though grateful for the action of the subcommittee in removing the worst parts from the bill, in subsequent committee hearings we still pressed forward with our case that even the terminally ill deserve protection from intentional or accidental overdoses of opioids. We asked our legislators, “If you were in the first day of the last year of your life, would you want to die the next day from a drug overdose? Moreover, what if the prognosis of your life expectancy turned out to be wrong, and you would actually live a long time beyond it?” We condemned the idea that the State could treat terminally ill people as “expendables” it doesn’t care about. Nonetheless, on May 3, the legislature passed the bill in its amended form. So to that extent the cause of life suffered a defeat.
Something that was overlooked in legislative debate over this bill is that opioids over-prescribed to patients are a magnet for abusers of opioids. This is so serious that the Washington Post devoted a long article to the problem in 2017. Persons with opioid addiction often seek to obtain opioids from hospice home patients, where they know they can get them without facing consequences. This was all the more reason to make sure that prescription and dispensing of opioids even to terminally ill persons are prechecked and monitored in each case. If there is no precheck for excessive opioid dispensing, how can one know whether others may be stealing them? The legislature just added one huge loophole to its efforts to control opioid addiction and death.
[POLST]Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment SB-206 (Brandes)
A VICTORY for the Cause of Life:
Unlike over the past five years, in the 2019 legislative session Senator Brandes’ POLST bill was not heard in any Senate committee. The bill therefore died without legislative action. We have to believe that FRTL’s past efforts against this bill were the deciding factor in its demise in 2019.
We are always worried about this bill because Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) is a misnomer. It should be called “Physician Orders for Non-Treatment.” This bill is being driven nationally by the Oregon Health and Science University Center for Ethics in Health Care, which is one of the main organizations pushing the adoption of assisted suicide laws across the nation. POLST is also being driven by the Hemlock Society, which too is a nation-wide advocate for the legalization of assisted suicide.
POLST would overturn existing law by moving physicians to the front line in procuring a patient’s end of life care decisions. The doctor comes into the patient’s room with a check-box POLST form and presents questions about the extent of care desired. The interview can be skewed by the doctor’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. Florida has a long-time policy in favor of advance directives as best reflecting patients’ real desires and protecting them from outside pressures. Advance directives are typically prepared in a reflective atmosphere with consultation from one’s family. On the other hand, a brief face to face meeting with a physician holding a POLST form is neither deliberative nor equal.
Any doctor who happens to examine the patient, whether previously known to the patient or not, may complete the POLST form. There is no need for trust or an established relationship. There is no requirement that the examining physician had ever even met with the patient before.
The POLST form overrules the patient’s advance directive if it is done later in time.
In states which have POLST, experience has demonstrated that POLST results in refusal of life sustaining treatments in numbers much greater than advance directives (98.1% versus 16.1%). Why would this be if there were not an inherent bias toward death in the POLST process?
Equal Rights Amendment
SCR-266 (Gibson); HCR-209 (Joseph); HCR-255 (Williams)
VICTORY! ALL THREE BILLS DIED IN COMMITTEE:
Leading pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, ACLU, and Planned Parenthood have urged that the Equal Rights Amendment, if enacted, would invalidate laws that treat abortion differently from other “medical procedures,” on the ground that abortions are sought only by women, and therefore not to allow abortion is to discriminate against women. We believe that abortion proponents hope to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in an effort to do an end run around the increasingly conservative United States Supreme Court. Even if that Court were to reverse Roe v. Wade, abortion proponents argue that a ratified Equal Rights Amendment will prevent any limitations on abortion rights. Thankfully these bills went nowhere.
BILLS WHICH FLORIDA RIGHT SUPPORTED
This was not a good year for unborn life in the Florida legislative session. No bill to restrict abortion passed. Since anti-abortion bills had considerable support in both the House and Senate, we have to conclude that leadership in both bodies suppressed their consideration.
Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
SB-558 (Gruters); HB-1345 (Gregory, Grall)
This bill died in committee.
Pain receptors are present throughout an unborn child’s entire body no later than 16 weeks after conception; that an unborn child reacts to touch by 8 weeks after conception; that 20 weeks after conception an unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful as applied to an adult; that pain applied to an unborn child brings about increases in stress hormones, and that an unborn child experience pain at least as soon as 20 weeks after conception. In recognition of these facts, under this bill no abortion may be performed on an unborn child capable of feeling pain.
For obvious reasons, Florida Right to Life supported this bill because it would end many grisly late-term abortions
Prohibition of Abortion After Detection of Fetal Heartbeat
SB-792 (Baxley); HB-235 (Hill)
This bill died in committee.
Cardiac activity in the unborn child begins at an identifiable moment in time. The fetal heartbeat, therefore, is a key indication of life and a medical predictor that an unborn child will reach live birth. In recognition of these facts, and also because the State of Florida has a legitimate interest in protecting the life of the unborn child and the health of the mother, this bill would have prohibited abortion after the unborn child’s heart begins to beat.
This bill had 14 co-sponsors in the House and 9 co-sponsors in the Senate. It obviously stirred a lot of legislative interest and enthusiasm, a very good sign. However, we can only assume that House and Senate leadership did not want consideration of this popular bill.
Parental Consent Required for Abortion on Minor
HB-1335 (Grall); SB-1774 (Stargel)
Died in Committee.
This was a very important bill for us because back in 1989 the Florida Legislature had already enacted into law that no abortion could be performed on a minor without parental consent. Unfortunately, in that year the case of In re T.W. came before the then very liberal Florida Supreme Court, and the Court struck down Florida’s parental consent law. In the process that decision created an abortion right in Florida which was even more radical than Roe v. Wade. Thus if abortion is ever to be eliminated, or even restricted in Florida, In re T.W. will first have to be reversed.
With the election of Governor Ron DeSantis and his appointment of three new conservative justices to the Florida Supreme Court, the situation has changed. The majority on the Court now consists of conservative, strict-constructionist justices. This creates an opportunity for the Court to reexamine In re T.W. If the Legislature had passed the Parental Consent Bill, the Court would then have an opportunity not only to restore parental rights, but also to reexamine the whole radically pro-abortion regime established by the prior Court. Passage of the Parental Consent bill was very important— almost essential— to set the stage to make Florida a pro-life state.