Over the past few election cycles Democrats have made a key component of their campaigns the so called “Republican War on Women.” However, Florida Democrats face a tough challenge if former Governor Charlie Crist defeats Senator Nan Rich for the party’s gubernatorial nomination. As this blog has previously noted, Senator Rich is the only consistently pro-choice candidate running for Governor. Governor Crist, who was once somewhat pro-choice as a State Senator, amassed a poor record on women’s issues as Governor. In fact, it wasn’t until after Marco Rubio erased a 40 point deficit in a Republican Primary for US Senate in 2010 that Crist made his first significant veto of a legislative action that targeted women. Shortly after his veto of the legislation that would have required ultrasounds for all pregnant women seeking to exercise their legal right to an abortion, Governor Crist became an Independent.
There is no doubt that Governor Rick Scott has a poor record on women’s issues. However last year he vetoed a highly controversial alimony reform bill. While some argue that alimony reform is needed, the bill allowed for changes retroactively to alimony agreements, and made child custody cases in divorce an almost guaranteed 50/50 split. The purpose of that was to make it easier on the non-custodial spouse when settling the alimony agreement. His veto was praised by many women’s groups, as well as the Florida Bar, and came as a welcome surprise to progressives around the state. Many on the left felt Scott was playing politics, however it was not an election year and he explained his veto not as an opponent of reform but based on the unfair retroactivity clause included in the bill.
Was his maneuver more cynical than that of Crist with his veto in 2010? It could be argued that it was more genuine considering it was more than a year out from an election.
This Session the Legislature passed a measure (HB 1047) that will make it more emotionally, legally and medically challenging for a woman to obtain a later-term abortion. Current law makes it illegal for a third-trimester abortion except in cases when necessary to save the life or protect the health of the mother. So far this year zero third trimester abortions have been performed in the state of Florida, yet anti-choice advocates argued this was needed because of upgrades in medical technology. It can legitimately be claimed that a fetus can survive earlier than ever because of advances in medicine. The sponsors chose to file this bill that puts an undue burden on the mental health of a likely already grieving pregnant woman who has to make this decision. Additionally, the medical doctor is now at risk because unless physicians have documented the development of the fetus and chances of viability, they can be arrested – Arrested for simply practicing medicine. There is no doubt that a later-term abortion is a difficult subject for women and families, however this bill is a catalyst to chipping away at the fundamentals of safe and legal reproductive rights.
Governor Scott has a chance to break Governor Crist’s record of vetoing one bill that was anti-woman during his four years in office. If Governor Scott does the right thing and vetoes this bill, he may neutralize some of the women’s organizations support of Charlie Crist. The argument heard around Florida is that one does not know which Charlie they will get if he returns to the Capitol. Would he veto this bill? He still claims that he is “personally pro-life” but would not interfere in a woman’s personal decision. Frankly, this is the definition of pro-choice; it just seems that he is afraid to say it. Will he be afraid to veto a bill like this, when the Legislature could then make a case of withholding his priority legislation? Will he have the political courage to stand up to a Legislature that chisels away at the rights of women each year? Or will he stand with the majority of Democrats and few Republicans willing to say they’ve had enough?
The Governor can show his own political courage by standing up and vetoing a bill that would make an already difficult decision harder. He didn’t do it with the same ultrasound bill that Crist as Governor/Candidate vetoed in 2010 and that should be held against him. However, he could stand up to the activist base of the GOP that will likely vote for him anyway and tell them that the State of Florida should not be interfering in medical procedures that a physician has deemed necessary. Governor Scott’s mantra of less government demands a veto.