TALLAHASSEE, Florida — The basement floor of the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in downtown Tallahassee saw two days of heavy Catholic advocacy for the upcoming legislation.
Organized by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Days at the Capitol Jan. 28 and 29 brought some 200 pro-life advocates representing the Miami Archdiocese and the state’s six dioceses.
Participants — who included members of Councils of Catholic Women, clergy, religious, seminarians, Knights, laity and teens — filled the massive auditorium, sitting at their designated tables, enjoying lectures from priests, bishops and members of Catholic Charities.
The gathering is a part of a religious excursion, with the second day having them board shuttle buses to blitz the Capitol complex to peacefully discuss issues with lawmakers responsible for defending or opposing several bills that could threaten the futures of millions in Florida.
Making their voices heard to Florida legislation is a task these advocates relish. They have been performing this ritual for years with hopes that those in charge of introducing and executing legal orders in the Sunshine State continue, and further influence, a more Christian value system that encourages sympathy and empathy over its citizens.
Michele Taylor, associate director for communications of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, helped organize the event.
“Catholic Days activities allow elected officials to hear directly from their Catholic constituents and for the members of our faith community to demonstrate their support for public policies that protect and promote the lives and dignity of some of Florida’s most vulnerable populations,” she said.
Before meeting with their representatives, the conference held a legislative briefing with participants that outlined three specific topics of discussion with legislators: parental consent for a minor getting an abortion; physician-assisted suicide; and the death penalty.
“Florida law currently requires parental notification prior to a minor’s abortion, but that one might not be sufficiently strong to ensure that a parent is actually notified,” said Ingrid Delgado, the conference’s associate director for social concerns/respect life. “The abortion facility only has to mail the notice but not confirm its receipt (by the parent).”
In many instances, then, the parent is not aware the minor has had an abortion.
Delgado noted that “once a minor is pregnant, her life is forever changed.”
Delgado and other abortion opponents hope to see House and Senate bills — H.B. 265 and S.B. 404 — passed and signed into law that would require official consent by a parent before a minor has an abortion. The bills also include a judicial bypass for certain circumstances: in the case of parental abuse or incest, it would allow the minor to petition the court for a waiver — or bypass — to allow an abortion without parental consent.
“I am glad that my students got to see and hear this so they can see how they can make a difference and effect change on some of the issues the Catholics are involved in,” said Mark Latell, director of student life at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, who brought along several students so they could see the advocacy days firsthand.
“I am basically in total agreement with the whole room,” Latell told The Florida Catholic diocesan newspaper. “I just came from the March for Life, so obviously I am very pro-life. … It’s all about life. Whether it is in the womb or at the end of life. We are trying to protect it always.”
Frankie Chevere, executive director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach, said: “I mean they require consent for a surgery (for a minor), so why not require consent for an abortion?”
Overall, Florida has seen a dramatic drop in abortions during the last decade. According to the Agency for Healthcare Administration, in 2010, Florida abortions hit 79,843. In 2018, the number declined to 70,239. As of December 2019, abortions plummeted further to 62,731.
It seems efforts to end abortion in Florida are growing, but on other life issues, Catholics still have much work ahead of them.
Regarding physician-assisted suicide, a Senate bill — S.B. 1800 — would allow any Floridian to legally purchase drugs for the purpose of ending one’s own life.
Several states, including California and Oregon, have allowed assisted suicide for years, and now advocates for legalizing this are setting their sights on Florida, according to Ken Kniepmann, the Catholic conference’s associate for health.
While those involved in the assisted suicide campaign claim it allows the terminally ill to have “death with dignity,” without burdening their families with thousands of dollars in medical bills, Catholic opponents argue otherwise.
“It’s a felony to help someone commit suicide in the state of Florida,” Kniepmann said during a question-and-answer session with Catholic Days’ participants. “The so called ‘Death with Dignity’ laws have really been promoted by well-funded advocacy groups. They influence medical professional associations. They reframe the public perception, and they lobby legislators.”
While meeting with members of his district, which includes portion of the Diocese of Venice, Sen. Bill Galvano, president of the Florida Senate, told his constituents: “I do not support assisted suicide” and “that bill isn’t going anywhere. It will not pass the Senate.”
“These are tough battles,” said Kniepmann. “We need to recognize the proponents of this bill have invested an enormous amount of time and energy just to get this bill proposed in this chamber.”
Advocates at Capitol Days also called for repealing capital punishment and urged that lawmakers’ support S.B. 938 and H.B. 6045, though the bills have a difficult road ahead.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the death penalty now is no longer admissible under any circumstances.
“Florida is a national outlier when it comes to the death penalty,” Delgado said. Florida is one of 30 states that have the death penalty, but it ranks pretty high on the list of states that carry out the most executions.
The Florida Supreme Court just ruled Jan. 24 that convicted murderers do not need a unanimous jury to sentence them to death. Except for Alabama, every state with the death penalty has required that a unanimous jury verdict impose the death penalty. Federal law also requires unanimity.
The majority of Americans are beginning to see death row as an outdated policy to deter crime. A Gallup Poll from 2019 found that 60 percent of American citizens believe life imprisonment is a better option than a death sentence.
Beaulieu is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando.
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