October 10, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The New York Times News Service) -- More than a year before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal health care act, Republican legislators put two constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot designed to keep portions of it from going into effect in the state.
Amendment 1 would ban government from forcing people to buy health insurance. But the Supreme Court ruling this summer upholding the "individual mandate" renders that measure almost irrelevant, as federal law usually overrides state law, according to most experts.
The other proposal, Amendment 6 on the Nov. 6 ballot, would bar the spending of public money for abortions. If approved by the 60 percent of voters required of all constitutional amendments in Florida, it may have far-reaching effects not only on abortion rights but, some critics fear, on privacy rights in general.
Some supporters of the federal health care law fear Amendment 1 could be used in lawsuits, but the immediate effect would be minimal, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in Alabama and Wyoming face similar proposals in November, and dozens of states have enacted laws barring the insurance requirement.
"Because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual coverage mandate, which does not require a state role, the federal law fully applies and any contradictory state laws will have no current effect on (the act) provisions, other than barring state agencies and employees from enforcing it as of 2014," NCLS analyst Richard Cauchi wrote.
Florida legislators crafted Amendment 6 in 2011 partly out of concern that the federal health care act would allow government money to be used for health insurance that covers abortion, something banned by federal law except in cases of rape or incest or when the woman's health is in danger.
In the proposed amendment, they also included a single sentence -- "This constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution" -- that at least with respect to abortion would strip the right to privacy guaranteed in Florida's constitution.
Notification vs. consent
Abortion advocates nationwide are rallying against Amendment 6, one of 11 proposed constitutional changes placed on this fall's ballot by Florida's Republican-dominated Legislature.
Supporters of the abortion measure, including the Florida Catholic Conference, say the constitutional change is necessary to open the door for a law that would require parental consent before a minor can get an abortion.
Florida law now requires parental notification, with some exceptions, before a girl can get the procedure, but does not require the parent's permission. But the ballot language itself says nothing about parental consent, and legislators said little if anything about parental consent in putting the amendment on the ballot.
Asked about the fairness of voters being unaware of a potential parental consent connection, Jim Frankowiak, campaign manager of Citizens for Protecting Taxpayers and Parental Rights, said, "We're doing our best in that regard. I can't argue the point with you."
He said his political committee supports the proposed amendment and is working on educating voters about what the change would mean regarding parental consent.
The constitutional change would have a far broader effect, argued Louis Silber, a West Palm Beach attorney who represents the Presidential Women's Center clinic in West Palm Beach, which performs abortions, and successfully litigated many of the key abortion cases in Florida.
Since 1980, the state constitution has guaranteed that "every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life." No such privacy right is included in the U.S. Constitution.
"There is no question that if this amendment passes, women's reproductive rights, women's general health rights will be severely diminished," Silber said.
The term "abortion" could be construed to mean some forms of contraception, such as the morning-after pill, Silber said.
"I'm fearful that once we start encroaching upon constitutional rights, it could really affect women's health. I don't think the voters fully understand that," he said.
Some see two-tiered system
Opponents of the proposed amendment also say the amendment would lead to a two-tier system of health care insurance in Florida.
While state law prohibits spending public money on abortions except in the case of rape, incest or when a woman's health is endangered, the amendment would prohibit it except in cases of rape, incest and when the woman's life is endangered.
That means state and local-government workers whose insurance covers abortion when the woman's health is threatened would see that go away, while employees of private companies could still have it, said Lillian Tamayo, CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast. About 80 percent of all policies nationwide include some abortion coverage, she said.
"They are enshrining in the constitution that these public employees ... can never have this health insurance benefit and setting up this two-tier system -- one for everybody else in the state and one for our nurses, our firefighters and our teachers," said Tamayo, who leads the "Vote No on 6" political committee to defeat the proposal.
Abortion rights advocates, unions, doctors and even some religious groups have contributed nearly $2 million to the committee, dwarfing the amount garnered by the measure's supporters.
More than half of the money has come from Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide, and Tamayo's group has contributed more than $300,000 to the campaign, according to state campaign finance records. The group has earmarked $1 million for television ads, the records show, and has launched several Web banners urging voters to shoot down the measure, including one linking it to Gov. Rick Scott.
"This is just one more attempt for politicians to try to interfere with a woman's medical decision that really ought to be between a woman and her family. So voting no on this keeps politicians out of personal medical decisions," Tamayo said.
Since April, Citizens for Protecting Taxpayers and Parental Rights has collected less than $250,000, the bulk from Florida Catholic dioceses. Proponents of the measure had expected more support from conservative, evangelical and anti-abortion groups. They blame the poor economy, a hotly contested presidential race and an election year in which nearly every state legislative seat is up for grabs.
"Everybody has experienced a disappointing influx of money," said Florida Catholic Conference lobbyist Sheila Hopkins.
And Republican legislators, now concentrating on their own legislative campaigns, appear to have walked away from many of the constitutional amendments that they voted on last year for this year's ballot.
"People seemed to think a presidential election is a good year and of course they think certain issues will drive out voters. But if the party's not helping to support the effort, it is what it is. ... And we do the best we can with what we have," Hopkins said.
Copyright 2012 The New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.