A group of black female lawmakers walked out of a fiery debate in the Florida House on Thursday over the state’s latest bill focusing on abortion. House Bill 845, which passed the Florida House of Representatives by a margin of 71-44 that day, stipulates that a doctor performing an abortion must sign an affidavit confirming it was not performed based on the race or gender of the fetus.
The third abortion-related bill to pass in the Florida House within days, HB 845 would make it a third-degree felony to perform race- or gender-based abortions, and make not reporting such abortions punishable by a $10,000 fine.
The Republican-sponsored bill passed despite protests from Democrats that its sponsors promoted the measure using racially-insensitive tactics.
Republicans accused of race-baiting
Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights), the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a speech on Thursday that African-Americans are targeted by pro-abortion organizations with harmful intent.
“In America alone, without the Nazi holocaust, without the Ku Klux clan, Planned Parenthood and other abortionists have reduced our black population by more than 25 percent since 1973. This is called discriminatory targeting,” Van Zant said, according to a report by the Tampa Bay Times.
Van Zant also claimed that “race and sex selection abortion is prevalent throughout America, including Florida,” without specifying his sources.
He also charged that, “80 percent of abortion clinics nationwide are located in minority neighborhoods where 43 percent of all black babies are aborted.”
As many as five black female representatives among a group of African-American lawmakers walked out in response to Van Zant’s statements.
Rebecca Wind, senior communications associate of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research group, refuted his statistics on the locations of clinics where abortions are performed.
“In fact, fewer than one in 10 abortion clinics are located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods,” Wind wrote in an email to theGrio, referencing a 2011 study by her organization. “More than six out of ten are in majority-white neighborhoods.”
Black lawmakers react to Van Zant
“I don’t appreciate anyone trying to explain what any other ethnic group’s lifestyle is and what they do, when you really don’t have any authority to interpret it,” Rep. Barbara Watson (D-Miami), one of the black lawmakers who walked out, told The Huffington Post. ”I think the women and people of color in that chamber deserve an apology from him, but I don’t know that it would actually change his point of view.”
Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) said House Republicans are diverting energy from more important discussions.
“It was an emotional moment,” he told theGrio, although he did not leave the chamber. “It seems that every session we’re coming back and we’re tweaking abortion bills, debating the whole issue of abortion.”
While according to the Guttmacher Institute, 37 percent of abortions were performed on African-American women in 2008, versus 34 percent for white and 22 percent for Hispanic women, many blacks in the Florida House balked at seeing African-American social issues referenced in this manner. (Black people make up 13.1 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.)
“I mean, the basic principle of it was no one should be aborting a life on the basis of that life’s gender or race. I mean, who argues with that,” Rouson continued. “But to have a representative stand and use black babies, black abortions, black genocide as an emotional tool to sway a vote went a little over the edge. Some didn’t appreciate it. I didn’t appreciate it.”
Van Zant’s office did not respond to attempts made by theGrio for comment.