Thursday, March 08, 2007

Senator Storm's Latest Bluster Threatens Florida's Girls And Health Care Providers

Florida State Senator Ronda Storms, an ├╝berconservative Republican whose notable political accomplishments include, to name just a few shameful examples, cutting off Hillsborough County's funding of Planned Parenthood and codifying the county's non-recognition of Gay Pride events, has joined forces with Rep. Dennis Baxley (R) of Ocala, filing SB 2546, the Child Sexual Abuse Reporting & Evidence Collection Bill. This legislation would require health care professionals to assume pregnant teens are crime victims--and to call the police--if they know or suspect a girl under 16 is pregnant.

This is the general bill Storms filed, as it appears on the Florida House of Representatives site (italics mine):

Child Sexual Abuse Reporting & Evidence Collection: requires health care practitioners, personnel of abortion clinics or abortion referral or counseling agencies, & other specified persons to report pregnancy of child under 16 years of age to certain law enforcement agencies under certain circumstances; requires health care practitioner who performs abortion on child under 16 years of age to collect & preserve specified DNA samples from child & fetus & forward samples to FDLE, etc.

The language appearing in italics is, I believe, purposefully vague. It builds in miles of latitude for the prosecution of any non-compliers. Who is considered a "health care practitioner"? And by "personnel of abortion clinics", do they mean the receptionist, the armed guard, and the bomb-sniffing dog's trainer as well as the doctors and nurses?

I clicked through to read the bill's full text, whereupon I discovered the rest of the above paragraph (italics mine):

...providing for testing to identify or confirm the identity of the person responsible for impregnating the child; providing for the use of such evidence in certain criminal and civil proceedings; authorizing the Department of Health to revoke, suspend, or deny renewal of the license of a health care practitioner or abortion clinic for a specified time in certain circumstances; providing applicability; authorizing rulemaking; providing for the abrogation of the privileged quality of communications in certain circumstances; providing an effective date.

This is a dangerous piece of legislation wrapped in pretty tissue, a cannoli full of sweet concerns for sexually-abused teens that happens to be laced with policy poison. Look at those last words: providing for the abrogation of the privileged quality of communications in certain circumstances. This would permit the state to override doctor-patient confidentiality in "certain circumstances"--undoubtedly ones to be defined and decided on by Storms.

The bill is also wrongheaded in that it seeks to turn health care providers into de facto arms of the law. Some will say this is no different than requiring that gunshot wounds be reported to the police. They contend that evidence of a crime is the compelling force at work; if a girl 15 or younger is pregnant, that is evidence enough to know that someone committed a crime. And therefore, that someone must now be DNA-identified, hunted down, and prosecuted.

Never mind if the girl in question does not want to report a crime, but rather, is only looking for help in managing--or ending--her pregnancy.

Clearly the wishes of the pregnant girl do not even enter into the equation.

And that, I believe, is where one of the biggest problems with this legislation lies. A girl who was raped or abused can already ask a teacher or counselor or health care provider for help in reporting the crime. All that SB 2546 will accomplish is to discourage a girl who's pregnant by a boyfriend from seeking either prenatal care or legal, safe abortion if it means said boyfriend will be prosecuted, and even imprisoned, for statutory rape or child abuse. Once she has dismissed out-of-hand the option of sending her boyfriend to prison--and if we're realistic, we'll admit that a significant number of girls will be of that mind--she will be left with two less-than-stellar options: carry on with the pregnancy and never go near a clinic or doctor's office, or find an illegal and unlicensed practitioner and get an abortion that way, endangering her health and possibly her life.

I can already see Constitutional concerns with Storms' legislation. First, the abrogation of doctor-patient (or counselor-patient) privilege codified in this bill seems to fly in the face of Fourteenth Amendment privacy rights.

And the notion that health care providers, now acting as agents of law enforcement, must endeavor to "collect and preserve specified DNA samples from child and fetus" regardless of the girl's wishes--not to mention her right to be secure in her person--sounds an awful lot like the unreasonable search and seizure denounced in the Fourth Amendment.

If you're a Florida resident, I urge you to take a moment and write to or call your state congresspersons and implore them to vote against Storms and Baxley's dangerous legislation, SB 2546.

Also at Shakes' place and Pushing Rope.

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