Abortion rights initiative’s fiscal impact draws long debate in state panel

Abortion Utah
The state panel will meet next week to keep the debate going over Amendment 4.

A state panel became gridlocked on the abortion rights initiative’s full fiscal impact — especially on potential litigation costs and whether abortions would ultimately be a Medicaid covered procedure.

The Financial Impact Estimating Conference met in a nearly all-day debate to determine the ballot wording that accompanies Amendment 4, which would overturn the state’s six-week abortion ban if approved.

“This is a prohibition on government action, not a right to abortion,” said Florida’s top economist Amy Baker. “Even if it’s a right, it does not mean that the government has to do anything. … We have a proposed amendment to give a right to hunting and fishing in Florida. I don’t think anybody is here saying, ‘Oh, we have to buy a fishing pole for everyone and a rifle for everyone.’”

But former budget chief Chris Spencer, picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to be at the conference, argued something different. “We can’t put a dollar figure next to how much the litigation is going to cost and how much the Medicaid system may have to expend. … But I think it’s something significant enough that it can’t be ignored in a financial impact estimating analysis.”

The two sides talked for hours, with Baker admitting at one point that they were split 2-2 and “have to agree to disagree.”

The panelists, who are made up of the top budget staffers from the House, Senate and the Governor’s Office, will meet again July 15 for the third time over Amendment 4. To push the panel’s discussion along, Baker urged the panelists to ready a 150-word ballot language proposal for the next meeting.

Amendment 4 would limit government interference on abortion until viability, when an unborn child can survive outside the mother’s body. It needs 60% of the vote to pass.

Florida officials are following Michigan, where abortion rights advocates sued last month to overturn the state’s ban preventing public money being spent on abortions. Michigan legalized abortion until fetal viability last year.

Baker warned both sides of the abortion debate could sue after Amendment 4.

Sara Johnson, who is with the opposition group against Amendment 4, argued Monday that abortion rights advocates will next try to fight for publicly funded abortions under Medicaid. Johnson wanted voters to be aware of the “expensive litigation” that could come with Amendment 4.

“We believe you are therefore duty bound to conduct a thoughtful, full and fresh analysis based not just on what was known then, but what is known now,” Johnson told the state panel. “The previous report did not delve very deeply into the issue of Medicaid funding for abortions in Florida.”

But Michelle Morton, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, said the likelihood of lawsuits shouldn’t affect the financial impact statement.

“Whenever you have law, you have litigation. That’s a given. The majority of recent ballot initiatives have led to litigation, but their financial impact statements did not reference that as a probable cause,” Morton said.

“It’s important for this panel to ground its work in the only authority for financial impact statements The state constitution … Words matter here. You can’t go beyond what’s probable, what is possible, what might happen, layering contingencies and other speculation, no matter how well informed, do not belong in financial impact statements.”

Michael New, who identified himself as being hired the Governor’s Office and an assistant professor at the Catholic University of America, argued that Amendment 4 will hurt the state financially.

“It will likely require a state Medicaid program to cover elective abortions, costing Florida taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” New said. “It would strike down several pro-life laws … and lower Florida’s fertility rate, which would mean long-term reductions to tax revenue, reductions in federal funds, and lower credit rating, burdening Florida taxpayers and worsening Florida’s fiscal health.”

But Morton argued even with the current abortion bans in place, women are still traveling out of state to get the medical procedures or getting medications online.

“These bans are not drastically changing the birth rate. Over the last two years, several states have banned abortion. Some have banned it entirely. And yet, there were more abortions performed in 2023 than in 2022,” Morton said. “Banning abortion does not address the demand for abortion. People with resources can still access abortion.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


5 comments

  • Laurel Nev

    July 8, 2024 at 6:59 pm

    Do these clowns EVER do their homework BEFORE putting feet in their mouths?

    Federal law only allows the use of federal funds for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment of the pregnant person. (See the Hyde Amendment, passed in 77.)

    Reply

    • Ian

      July 9, 2024 at 10:05 am

      Dear Laurel Nev,

      The reporter failed to tell you that these clowns claim the amendment could result in a court ruling that requires the state to pay the full cost of elective abortions through the Medicaid program, without using federal funds. The Hyde amendment does not prevent that.

      Reply

      • MarvinM

        July 12, 2024 at 2:21 pm

        Dear Ian,

        “The reporter failed to tell you that these clowns claim the amendment could result in a court ruling that requires the state to pay the full cost of elective abortions through the Medicaid program”

        The opperative word there is “could. Not “will for sure” or even “maybe” but “could”.

        But what will for sure happen if Amendment 4 doesn’t pass is women who are 7 weeks or more pregnant will apply for medicaid because they have a dependent now and they probably now qualify for medicaid, where they didn’t before.

        That will cost the state more. I don’t know why people don’t see that.

        Reply

  • Impeach Biden

    July 13, 2024 at 9:03 am

    Modern contraception is easily available. Everyone of those young impressionable liberals holding those signs should be on birth control. If so its a non issue, but then again the Dems have nothing else to run on.

    Reply

    • FLPatriot

      July 15, 2024 at 11:23 am

      I bet you refused to take the COVID vaccine because you didn’t want to put something into your body but you will demand that women take birth control so you can not have to worry about using a condom or abstaining from sex. How about we pass a new law for men? One that mandates all men at puberty get a vasectomy. Once they get married and can prove that they can provide for a child they can have it reversed. If at any point they have a child and do not provide court ordered support then they are sterilized.

      Reply

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