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Panel seems poised to decide abortion amendment would lead to costly litigation


Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointee to a state panel in charge of estimating the financial implications of the abortion-rights amendment that will be on the ballot in November is pushing the group to conclude that Florida would have to pay for potential litigation, which he said could run into millions.

The four-person panel is revisiting its financial analysis of Amendment 4 after the initiative’s backers, Floridians Protecting Freedom, filed a suit alleging that the panel’s summary that will appear on ballots isn’t accurate now that the six-week abortion ban is under effect. But, based on the panel’s discussion during a meeting on Monday, the second go-around may not turn out in favor of the abortion rights initiative.

Chris Spencer, who was director of policy and budget for the Executive Office of the Governor until June and now leads the State Board of Administration, said passage of Amendment 4 would lead to litigation challenging the existing statutes and regulations on abortion, such as waiting periods, parental consent for minors, and whether Medicaid would cover the procedure.

“We can’t reasonably predict how much it will cost in litigation to defend an existing statute that is being argued to be invalid as passed in an amendment like this, but we know it’s not zero,” Spencer said during the meeting. “We have plenty of contract service, outside counsels, for all of our state agencies, and we know that they don’t do this for free. So, there’s a cost any time litigation will be incurred.”

He continued: “It’s hard to say how much that cost will be. It can be in the hundreds of thousands for basic cases that I’ve dealt with. It can be millions for protracted cases that end up going to the state Supreme Court, which any of these issues could easily go up to the state Supreme Court [to] make a determination on whether or not it’s in compliance.”

New faces in the panel

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The panel is scheduled to continue the discussion on July 8.

Amendment 4 would protect access to abortion in the Florida Constitution if at least 60% of voters approve the measure in November. The amendment states that no laws can “prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s health care provider.”

Spencer also took issue with the term “health care provider,” stating multiple times during the meeting that speech pathologists or dental hygienists could perform abortions because the amendment doesn’t define who qualifies. He wasn’t a part of the Financial Impact Estimating Conference that met in late October and early November. DeSantis’ original appointee wasn’t available, so the governor’s office retained Spencer as its panelist for the week, he told Florida Phoenix following the Monday meeting.

During meetings last year, the group decided it couldn’t determine the economic impact of the amendment, but did suggest that some state programs could save money if fewer children were born. Spencer and Rachel Greszler wanted the group to change its previous conclusions that Amendment 4 could save the state money in certain areas.

Greszler is a recent addition to the Florida House staff and has worked for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative activist group, as a researcher on labor and retirement policies. In terms of state revenue, Greszler wanted the analysis to say that the amendment would reduce revenues because there would be fewer people living in the state.

More eyes on the financial impact statement

The revising of the financial impact statement has heightened the attention to the process — few people attended the meetings in the Capitol Complex last year, but there were barely any seats open on Monday. Several opponents of the abortion-rights amendment spoke about the costs of litigation.

“After the medical marijuana amendment passed, I was counsel to the Department of Health in most of those challenges,” said Jason Gonzalez, representing the anti-abortion group Protect Women Florida Action. “I can say, from my experience, this amendment, if passed, will cause much more litigation than even the medical marijuana amendment that we litigated from the circuit court to the district court of appeal then all the way through the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Morton, an attorney with the ACLU of Florida, gave a brief statement on behalf of the initiative backers, saying that the group expects the impact on the economy to be minimal.

“Our goal has always been to ensure that voters receive a fair and accurate financial impact statement. We expect a fair, neutral, and accurate financial impact statement and are committed to addressing any issues of inaccuracy, ambiguity, misleading information, lack of clarity, and confusion,” wrote Natasha Sutherland, Floridians Protecting Freedom’s communications director, in a statement to the Phoenix.

“It’s not a slam dunk”

The other two appointees (Amy Baker, coordinator of Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, and Azhar Khan, staff director of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee) pushed back against some of Spencer and Greszler’s effort to undo the work the panel had done last year.

Additionally, Baker warned Spencer that the panel had already tried to predict the cost of potential litigation with other constitutional amendments.

“I think that the passage of the amendment would result in increased litigation in many areas of government that otherwise wouldn’t have been there,” Baker said. “And I don’t mind trying to go down this hole, but it’s not a slam dunk.”

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Michael Moline for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and X.


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  • rayfusco68

    The "health care provider" argument is idiotic at best. Obviously a dentist can't advise someone about their cancer care, eye care needs, or any other health care needs outside of their specialty. The term health care provider inherently refers to a health care provider licensed to provide diagnosis in a specific area that they are allowed to legally do so.

    The economic impact issue is also specious, If a current law is deemed unacceptable because of the amendment, that is exactly what the amendment is put in place for. Those laws need to be removed or amended to comply with the Florida constitutional change. These arguments are just attempts to subvert the will of the majority, another attack on democracy.

    Friday, July 5 Report this

  • Charles

    Exactly $0 lost if it passes — and the will of the people is followed — it's a "choice"

    Sunday, July 7 Report this