Fla. Constitutional Amendments Spark Involvement From Catholic Church, Women's Advocates

October 9, 2012 — Two proposed constitutional amendments -- one related to abortion and the other to the separation of church and state -- on Florida's November ballot could have both immediate and far-reaching repercussions, the New York Times reports.

Groups on both sides are concerned that Florida voters -- some who face a ballot that is 12 pages long -- will misunderstand the scope of the proposals. Both measures have galvanized volunteers and spurred an outpouring of money from involved groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, reproductive-rights advocates and the state teachers' union (Alvarez, New York Times, 10/6).

The abortion-related proposal (Amendment 6) would ban public funding for abortion care or coverage. It also would exempt abortion from a privacy clause in the state constitution, which the Florida Supreme Court cited in striking down previous parental consent and notification laws for minors seeking abortion care. Supporters of the amendment have said the change would clear the way for enactment of a parental consent law in Florida (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/20).

Opponents say the amendment, if enacted, would have an immediate effect on state employees, including teachers and police officers, because it would prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion care, even when a pregnancy threatens a woman's health. For example, analysts say a health plan likely could not cover abortion for a pregnant woman with cancer who would probably have to terminate her pregnancy before receiving chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, the second initiative (Amendment 8), would remove 19th-century language from the state constitution that prohibits taxpayer dollars from going to religious or sectarian institutions. Although religious groups already receive the money, despite the language, they say the measure is needed to protect the practice. Opponents, including the teachers' union and civil liberties groups, say it would open the door to a voucher system for religious schools.

Both initiatives would need the support of at least 60% of voters to become law (New York Times, 10/6).