House sparks ‘personhood’ debate as it advances liability for unborn child death
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/10/22-Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, R-Fort Myers, right, talks about the bill she is co-sponsoring that would institute a 15-week abortion ban during the House Health & Human Services Committee, Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. The bill passed the committee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Jenna Persons-Mulicka said this is about simple protections for mourning parents. Democrats see a threat to reproductive rights.

Republicans say a new measure will ensure parents are compensated in the event their unborn child is killed due to negligence. But Democrats say it is sparking a fresh debate on abortion.

The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill (HB 651), which would change Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. The Florida Supreme Court has previously said that statute doesn’t apply to unborn children, but the legislation seeks to change that.

Some critics say the bill, intentionally or not, could open women who abort pregnancies to lawsuits from partners, and could even expose doctors providing in vitro fertilization services to liability if pregnancies prove unviable.

But Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, a Fort Myers Republican, said the legislation merely takes definitions already in Florida law. The intent is to make clear if a negligent act results in the death of an unborn child, parents have a civil remedy.

Notably, Mulicka-Persons sponsored a six-week abortion ban signed last year. She said she has no problem debating personhood and the value of unborn life, but this bill doesn’t tackle those controversial subjects.

“It’s about a real loss. And not a loss that was spontaneous or that just happened, but a loss that was caused by the wrongdoing of another person,” she said. “Most people I’ve talked to were shocked that we don’t already provide recovery.”

Democrats on the committee slammed the legislation as an attempt to extend personhood to a fetus at every stage of pregnancy, starting at conception.

“This bill is a backdoor to further reduce women’s access to reproductive health care,” said Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, an Ocoee Democrat.

Even some Republicans worried the bill reaches too far. Rep. Paula Stark, a St. Cloud Republican, said she fears the bill will bring unintended consequences. She supported the bill in committee but said she won’t support it on the floor unless the language evolves.

“I know that the intent of this bill is solid in your heart,” Stark said. “However, I think this bill is way too broad and has too many consequences outside of the expressed intent.”

But Rep. Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, said fears about abortion are clouding a simple issue. He suspected the bill would win unanimous support without heightened fears about the broader abortion topic.

“I can’t imagine as a parent, with the husband and wife putting together a nursery and having the most egregious accident happen, and have to come home to an empty or the knowledge that there will be an empty nursery because of the death of their unborn child,” he said.

Some abortion opponents say that expansion of personhood doesn’t go far enough. Andrew Shirvell, founder of the Florida Voice of the Unborn, said he wants more consequential language than what the Legislature is considering now.

“There are hundreds of thousands of unborn children that are frozen as human embryos in this country, including tens of thousands in Florida,” he said.

That’s precisely the fear many civil rights advocates raised when suggesting this could allow physicians to refuse to provide legal women’s health care.

“This will lead to doctors denying necessary health care and will increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications,” said Kara Gross, legislative director for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Similar debate surrounded a companion bill (SB 476) that advanced in the Senate last week. That legislation still must be heard by the Senate Rules Committee.

The House bill is now ready for debate on the floor.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Michael K

    February 21, 2024 at 10:58 am

    Looks like Republicans are taking their cues from Alabama to implement a theocracy for Florida to control women’s bodies and health.

  • PeterH

    February 21, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    Where Alabama goes …… Florida follows. It’s pretty unbelievable!

  • Sue the Florida Legislature

    February 21, 2024 at 6:13 pm

    Excellent. Let’s have all the women who lost pregnancies due to lack of access to proper healthcare, lack of safe affordable housing, lack of protection against violence, and exposure to toxic chemicals from dumping by corporations that cannot be sued….let’s have them all sue this legislature and governor for negligence.

  • Dont Say FLA

    February 22, 2024 at 9:24 am

    When protected unborn children “live” inside jars that are inside freezers, what will be the ramifications for jars and freezers?

    What if the power goes out? Is the power company on the hook for multiple infanticides? We shall see, I reckon.

    • Dont Say FLA

      February 22, 2024 at 9:26 am

      And if I have an unborn frozen child freezer installed in my car and carry an unborn frozen child everywhere I go, can I use the carpool lane forever?

  • Ron Forrest Ron

    February 23, 2024 at 10:32 am

    Do you have to put your frozen embryos in a rear facing car seat? How many per car seat are allowed? 1 to 1?

  • Dale A Arnold

    February 23, 2024 at 11:45 pm

    This is what happens when 50 years of settled law is over turned! They come for IVF, contraceptive, marriage equility!
    Alabama republican women thought the Leopard face eating party would never turn on them to eat their faces! Now it’s here in Florida!

  • Dale A Arnold

    February 23, 2024 at 11:47 pm


  • Blastocysts are People

    February 29, 2024 at 11:45 am

    Blastocysts are people!

    But gay trans drag queens and zygote morulas can go F themselves.

Comments are closed.


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