The nature of reproductive freedom in America – and the movement that secured it – has always been about much more than a woman’s right to make her own personal medical decisions. It encompasses the broader right of all individuals to live their private lives free from intrusion or judgment by government and politicians. It’s a broader advocacy of sexual life free from reproductive function. That’s why support for reproductive rights and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality go hand in hand.
It should shock no one that many of the same politicians seeking to control women’s bodies are also the ones trying to turn back the clock on LGBT equality. For decades, the usual right-wing agendas and organizations that have fought to limit and restrict reproductive choice, have also fought to pass laws that impose traditional definitions of gender, sexuality, family and marriage onto others. In Florida, these familiar intrusions into our private lives are about to be renewed. That’s why pro-choice and pro-equality coalitions must work together to stop our opponents from rolling back our progress.
As we begin another 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee, the battle lines have been drawn. New legislation has already been filed (HB 1/SB 602) that seeks to limit access to safe and legal abortions by shutting down providers with medically unnecessary regulations. Politically motivated investigations of Florida’s Planned Parenthood clinics by Governor Rick Scott and others in late 2015 failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing, but left the opponents of reproductive rights looking for another fight. There can be no doubt that the attacks on Planned Parenthood will continue to escalate. Conservative lawmakers will try to score cheap election-year points to rev up their bases at the expense of low-income women who need care. That same escalation of attacks can also be expected against LGBT communities as part of a national right-wing backlash to the historic marriage equality decision.
Overly broad and far-reaching “religious exemptions” ripe for abuse are the weapon they will continue to use to undo the accomplishments of both of our coalitions. Equal protection from discrimination, child adoption services, access to contraception and abortion rights – all successfully chipped away under the guise of “religious freedom.” Remember Hobby Lobby? Or last session’s “conscience protection” bill to reinstate a new gay adoption ban? How about the discriminatory Indiana “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”?
Sweeping religious exemption laws are already in motion in Tallahassee. In fact, HB 401 is so dangerous it would allow hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes and even hospice care facilities to refuse care for LGBT patients on religious or moral grounds. The same proposal would even permit health care providers to refuse fertility treatments or hormonal therapy for women. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and others agree that this may be the broadest religious exemption bill of its kind in the nation. We can combat this extremism by standing together in opposition.
But even as we fend off these attacks from our shared enemies, pro-choice and LGBT activists also have an opportunity to collaborate on good public policy that accomplishes our mutual goals. Last year, Florida became the state with the highest number of new HIV transmissions in the nation. There are many reasons for this problem, not least of which is the absence of age appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive and LGBT-inclusive sex education in a majority of Florida’s public schools. Abstinence-only sexual health education is naive. Not only have studies consistently shown teen pregnancy rates to be the highest in states with abstinence-only policies, but the facts show it has made teens less likely to engage in safer sex. That means more pregnancies and more STDs. That’s why Equality Florida and Planned Parenthood have signed-on in support of Florida’s Healthy Adolescents Act (HB 859/SB 1056), which would require any existing sexual health curriculums in Florida’s public school to be age appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive and LGBT-inclusive.
These common interests and policy intersections built upon the history of modern feminism and LGBT movements further demonstrate how attacks on either one of our struggles are intrinsically linked – our goals interconnected. Equality Florida recognizes that connection. It’s why we’ve been a pro-choice organization since our founding in 1997, and will continue to stand with Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice coalitions in actively defending hard-fought reproductive rights. I urge my lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends to join us in doing the same.
Carlos Guillermo Smith is the government affairs manager for Equality Florida Institute.