TALLAHASSEE, FL—A new Republican-led bill would expand Florida's Wrongful Death Act to include unborn children. Passing down party lines, Democrats raised concerns of vague language and potential negative implications for abortion providers.
"This bill expands Florida's wrongful death act to allow parents of an unborn child to recover civil damages for such unborn child's death in the same way that other survivors may generally recover under the act," SB 476's sponsor, Republican Sen. Erin Grall, said in Monday's Senate Committee on Judiciary.
Sen. Grall, who proposed Florida's six-week abortion ban last year, explained that parents who have experienced a wrongful death of their unborn child have traditionally been "barred" from receiving any civil liability recovery. The most common causes are attributed to car accidents or medical negligence, in which a child in utero has been either intentionally or negligently killed by another person.
While the bill could not be applied to miscarriages, critics worried that it could be used to either sue or restrict abortion providers.
"You're going to accidentally hurt the people you're trying to help," Tsi Day Smyth from the activist group Women's Voices of Southwest Florida said in public testimony. "The problem is that the bill doesn't really make it clear as to what qualifies as an unborn child. I worry that this bill—the way it's currently written—would have a negative effect on abortion providers...you're going to restrict or scare abortion providers and there are going to be people that die,"
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book questioned if a father could sue a doctor for performing an abortion outside of Florida's current 15-week allowance period, to which the sponsor replied: "He may,"
"The father has a right as a survivor for the intentional or negligent death of the child. If that was intentional or negligent on behalf of the provider there is a potential that the father would have a cause of action against the provider," Grall continued. She explained that there are limitations on what constitutes a "survivor" in statute, as the father of a child out of wedlock—who does not provide significant care for the child—would not be able to sue for wrongful death.
"I think the concept is something we can all support," Sen. Book said in debate. "I think its very scary for folks living in a post-Dobbs world, in a place where we're constantly chipping away at our rights to choose, that this is a piece of legislation that we're considering at this point,"
In her close, Grall stated that her bill had nothing to do with abortion, and everything to do with parents.
"I can't imagine what the loss of a child would be like," Grall said in her close on the bill. "But to think that our laws would differentiate between a child who is due today, versus one who is still in utero and due in 2 weeks, and that we would place a different value and we would look at that life differently...Just doesn't make sense,"
"I'm sorry that this has taken the route of an abortion discussion...there's nothing in this bill [about that]," She added. "This is really about parents,"