A Proposed Update to Florida’s Wrongful Death Law Could Screw Over Abortion Providers

Advocates are also concerned this bill could potentially allow men to retaliate against ex-partners for having abortions.

A Proposed Update to Florida’s Wrongful Death Law Could Screw Over Abortion Providers
Photo:SOPA (Getty Images)

The Florida legislature is kicking off 2024 by considering a bill that would amend the state’s wrongful death law so that people could sue over the loss of an “unborn child.” The bill, called Civil Liability for the Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child, was pre-filed for this legislative session at the end of 2o23 and would allow “the parents of an unborn child” to recover damages for the wrongful death of their fetus.

Rolling Stone notes that the bill’s authors are the same legislators who introduced the state’s six-week abortion ban, which is currently blocked in court. Yet one of the authors, Sen. Erin Grall (R), insisted to the outlet that this wrongful death bill is “unrelated to abortion.” Grall claims her bill is simply meant to expand “the definition of ‘survivor’ parents” to include parents “of an unborn child so that when an individual’s negligence results in the death of an unborn child, the parents can rightly sue for damages.”

In reality, the bill reads as a transparent attempt to make abortion providers more vulnerable to lawsuits. In Florida, abortion is currently banned at 15 weeks, as the state Supreme Court weighs the future of this law and the aforementioned six-week ban that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed last year.

But what’s possibly more concerning is that Grall’s wrongful death bill would potentially allow men to retaliate against ex-partners for having abortions. This is similar to what we’ve already seen in other states. In Texas, one man is suing his ex-wife’s friends (for $1 million each) for wrongful death for helping her have a medication abortion. Since 2021, Texas’ SB8 has allowed people to sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion for at least $10,000. And experts have continued to express concern that rapists and abusers could weaponize this against their victims. In Arizona, another man is suing the abortion clinic that helped his ex-wife have an abortion on behalf of the “estate” of her aborted embryo. Michelle Shindano, deputy director of government relations at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told Rolling Stone that the Florida bill “really opens the door for harassment from partners—even if the partner was originally in agreement with the abortion,” and “puts survivors of domestic abuse in a super vulnerable position.”

Florida bill’s authors deny that there’s anything nefarious about the bill in terms of abortion law. But it contributes to the same, dangerous legal theory of fetal personhood that offers legal rights to embryos and fetuses—at the cost of the pregnant person’s rights. After all, if a fetus is a person and the pregnant person’s “rights are secondary to the fetus,” Pregnancy Justice previously told Jezebel this creates “an environment in which violence—whether it’s state violence like imprisonment or interpersonal violence—can be committed against pregnant people with far less accountability.”

Pregnancy Justice’s Dana Sussman told Rolling Stone that a bill like Florida’s could give another person—possibly an abusive partner—legal standing to sue if someone loses their pregnancy, and consequently allow them to exert control over that person’s behaviors during their pregnancy. “It just takes someone who’s willing to try that legal theory out—and as we’ve seen, judges accept rogue arguments,” Sussman said.

As Florida’s legislature weighs this bill, the state may get a chance to vote on a ballot measure to enshrine a right to abortion in the state Constitution come November. On Friday, the proposed ballot measure collected enough signatures to make it to the ballot—pending a ruling from the state’s conservative Supreme Court due to a legal challenge from Florida’s anti-abortion attorney general. Between a bill to legally recognize abortion as “wrongful death” and top Republicans’ aggressive efforts to prevent voters from voting on abortion, it’s certainly a scary time to have a uterus in the state of Florida.

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