Democratic lawmakers file longshot bills to restore abortion access, reverse anti-woke education
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 3/08/22-Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, left, embraces Rep. Michele K. Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, after the Senate passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The abortion-focused bill would again allow terminations up until the third trimester.

Democratic lawmakers in Florida are collaborating on a pair of bills to restore access to abortion and gender-affirming health care, block school book bans and reverse state policies barring so-called “woke” instruction in classrooms.

Both bills are long shots, considering the Republican-dominant composition of the Legislature.

The first measure (SB 1404, HB 1283) by Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones and Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani is titled the “Health Care Freedom Act.” If passed, it would reverse Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban and a six-week ban GOP lawmakers pushed through last year that is on hold pending a Florida Supreme Court ruling.

Jones and Eskamani’s legislation would restore access to abortion up to the start of the third trimester, which normally runs from the 28th week of pregnancy until childbirth.

The measure would repeal restrictions on medical care for transgender minors and adults, renewing access to care that the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association have endorsed.

Further, the legislation would repeal a law passed in May that gave insurers and health care providers the ability to refuse health care at odds with their moral or religious beliefs. It would also require that patients be notified in cases where providers decline to perform certain services.

“This is about protecting patients, providing them dignity and autonomy, and aligning our policies with the values of freedom,” Jones said in a statement. “If the Senate wants to improve health care access, we need to remove discriminatory barriers to care and end political interference in Floridians’ personal medical decisions.”

Eskamani said “extreme politicians” have stripped away personal freedoms and parental rights. The “Health Care Freedom Act,” she said, will give Floridians back “fundamental rights and freedoms … to make their own personal and potentially life-saving health care decisions without political interference.”

Of note, a coalition of groups working to get abortion rights on the 2024 ballot officially secured enough signatures to do so Friday; however, Attorney General Ashley Moody is challenging the language of the proposed constitutional amendment in court.

The other measure (SB 1414, HB 1355) by Jacksonville Sen. Tracie Davis and St. Petersburg Rep. Michele Rayner is titled the “Freedom to Learn Act.” As its name suggests, it centers on education.

If passed, the measure would repeal the “Stop WOKE Act,” which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in April 2022 to prohibit public school lessons and professional training courses that teach students and employees that they are inherently discriminatory or oppressive because of their race, sex or national origin.

The “Freedom to Learn Act” would reenable teachers and schools to provide critical race theory-style instruction on topics like systemic injustice and racism. It would also add LGBTQ history education to required school curricula and, accordingly, reverse Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law prohibiting LGBTQ-instruction in classrooms.

Banning books from school libraries and classrooms would be more difficult under the bill’s provisions as well. Rather than allowing anyone who lives in a county to file a challenge to a book and have it removed, as is the case currently, the measure would reserve that ability for parents only.

It would also repeal a ban on diversity, equity and inclusion programming and student activities on state college and university campuses.

“Gov. DeSantis has turned schools over to these book-banning extremists who censor and whitewash history and relentlessly attack LGBTQ people, students of color, and families who don’t look or think like them,” Rayner said in a statement. “We cannot stand by and allow our youth to be indoctrinated into ignorance. Real freedom is a Florida where every student is protected, and every family is respected.”

Both bills have the support of Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Tampa.

“Floridians cannot be truly free until their fundamental rights to bodily autonomy, their freedom to learn, and their freedom to make personal health care decisions without political interference are fully restored,” the group’s public policy director, Jon Harris Maurer, said in a statement.

“Our state can do better and will do better when it gets back to being a place where everyone is free to succeed, and these reforms are an important step in that direction.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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