Wrangling Continues Over Abortion ‘Statement’

TALLAHASSEE — Tangling over issues such as costs of potential lawsuits and implications for the Medicaid program, a state panel Monday continued debating the financial effects of a proposed constitutional amendment about abortion rights.

The panel scheduled another meeting July 15 as it tries to agree on a “financial impact statement,” which will appear on the ballot with the proposed constitutional amendment.

Financial impact statements usually draw little attention, but an initial statement approved last year for the abortion amendment led to a still-unresolved court fight. The four-member panel, known as the Financial Impact Estimating Conference, is trying to draw up a revised statement but sometimes found itself deadlocked 2-2 on Monday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ representative on the panel, Chris Spencer, has pushed to consider issues such as costs of lawsuits that could result if voters pass the amendment in November. Spencer contends that numerous issues would wind up in litigation and that the amendment could spawn a legal battle about whether taxpayers should fund abortions through the Medicaid program — something that is now forbidden.

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“Of the question, is this a constitutional right and does Medicaid have to cover it, that’s a big piece of the broader litigation conversation that the result of it could be significant for the state,” Spencer, who was DeSantis’ longtime budget chief before being recently appointed as executive director of the State Board of Administration.

But panel member Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic & Demographic Research, raised concerns about directly tying the amendment with Medicaid. She said the Legislature or courts would have to decide whether the Medicaid program would pay for abortions.

“I am having a hard time reaching a probable outcome of this conference … that Medicaid is going to have to include abortion, because it’s so many steps removed from where we are, from where we start,” Baker said.

Monday’s meeting and a similar meeting last week reflected broader political arguments surrounding the proposed amendment, which, in part, says no “law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.”

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DeSantis and other state Republican leaders are fighting the measure, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4. Mirroring arguments made by Spencer, groups opposing the proposed amendment have focused during the panel’s meetings on potential litigation costs and the possibility of Medicaid-funded abortions.

“The impact on the state budget could be enormous,” said Sara Johnson of the anti-amendment group Vote No on 4.

But Michelle Morton, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida speaking on behalf of amendment supporters, said potential litigation costs are “too speculative” to be considered. She also urged the panel to stick with an analysis last year that said passage of the amendment would lead to savings in such things as education and criminal-justice costs.

“We ask again that you adhere to the FIEC’s (the Financial Impact Estimating Conference’s) original finding that Amendment 4 will have a probable cost savings to the state,” Morton told the panel. “We ask that you don’t include costs rooted in speculation on future litigation or long-term economic impacts. And lastly, we ask that your financial impact statement be clear about its purpose and be grounded in fact, not ideology.”

Financial impact statements appear with ballot initiatives to provide estimated effects of the measures on government revenues and the state budget. The panel released an initial statement for the abortion proposal in November 2023.

But on April 1, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that allowed a six-week abortion limit to take effect. DeSantis and lawmakers approved the six-week limit in 2023, but it was hung up in court for nearly a year..

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Floridians Protecting Freedom, a political committee leading efforts to pass the amendment, filed a lawsuit in April arguing that the November financial-impact statement needed to be revised because it was outdated after the Supreme Court ruling. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed with the committee, but the state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal, where the case is pending.

Amid the case, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, directed the Financial Impact Estimating Conference to begin meeting again to revise the statement.

During Monday’s meeting, Spencer was often aligned with economist Rachel Greszler, who represented the House, while Baker was often aligned with economist Azhar Khan, who represented the Senate.

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