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Proposal to ban abortion will return for 2012 session, state rep says

Republican Rep. Charles Van Zant will introduce his twice-failed "Florida for Life Act" during the 2012 legislative session, a proposal that bans abortion in nearly every circumstance.

The bill returns Florida law on abortion to its state before Roe v. Wade, Van Zant said in an interview today. It provides an exception when a pregnancy puts a mother’s life at risk.

His bill died without a hearing or a Senate sponsor in 2011, even as the Republican-dominated Legislature passed four other abortion-related measures, including one that requires women be given the opportunity to view an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

Why does Van Zant think this session will be any different?

"I have higher hopes because many of us have been praying more about it," said Van Zant, a Keystone Heights architect with a master's degree in divinity.

His talk of the bill comes as anti-abortion advocates ramp up their fight across the country this year, with the hottest debate happening in Mississippi. Voters there will weigh in on a controversial constitutional amendment on Nov. 8 that would deem a fertilized human egg a legal person, thus equating abortion and some forms of birth control with murder, the New York Times reported Tuesday. Similar "personhood" initiatives are "brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio," the story noted.

A group called Personhood Florida has a website encouraging people to sign and send this petition to get Mississippi's proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in Florida.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos signed the petition, "as he has always been a strong advocate for pro-life measures, and strongly believes in protecting the sanctity of life," said his spokeswoman, Lyndsey Cruley.

An inquiry sent to the group's email address was not immediately returned.

Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, have already introduced SB 290/HB 277, which expands the ban on third-trimester abortions to include viability of the fetus, requires doctors who perform abortions to take ethics courses, and toughens regulation of abortion clinics. The measure failed last session.

The most important thing Van Zant needs for his abortion ban to stand a chance is a Senate sponsor, he said. It won't be Republican Sens. Evelyn Lynn, of Ormond Beach, or Nancy Detert, of Venice, who voted against the measures in the 2011 session and criticized the chamber for not focusing on more pertinent issues.

"I came up here to help put food on the table. I came up here to get people jobs. I came up here to protect people from the kinds of safety issues that fire and police take care of. I came up here to protect education," Lynn said during debate.

Echoing the retort of Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, who sponsored the ultrasound legislation, Van Zant said a discussion of life is paramount to his duties as an elected official.

"We have almost 19 million Floridians. Improving their lives economically without addressing the issue of life and death is unconscionable for a legislator," he said. "We must address the issue of life."

"One of the reasons we have the problem with our economy and jobs and other things is that we as a people have become complacent with life," he said. "When life is paramount we find ourselves thriving economically."

Van Zant will file his bill soon, he said. He's currently weeding out unnecessary pages and arguments. He told a reporter earlier this week that doctors who perform abortions would go to jail under his measure.

"Absolutely. That would be a murder," he said in a Creative Loafing interview. "He would be involved in the death of the lives of an infant child and certainly there would be penalties."

A legal challenge is certain should Van Zant's proposal survive the session. He dismisses the threat of Roe v. Wade, saying "it is just a legal piece of case law."

UPDATE (6:30 p.m.): Van Zant also signed the Parenthood Florida petition, he said.

Asked to elaborate on his bill's implications for doctors and abortion clinics, Van Zant said they would face felony penalties for performing the procedures, not unlike shooting someone dead in the street.

"That is a premeditated felony to be decided by the courts," he said.

He does not think the mother electing to receive the procedure should be penalized by the state.

"The penalty for the mother is inherent," he said. "She's going to have to suffer that for the rest of her life."

To opponents, Van Zant's idea is an "all out assault on women's lives," said Judith Selzer, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates vice president of public policy.

"We saw it last year and it just keeps happening," she said.

She said legislators should focus on increasing access to sexual education, birth control and other ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.