Sept. 6, 2021 by David Silvererg
Last week Southwest Florida’s congressmen were very vocal in condemning President Joe Biden and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they fell strangely silent on the issue of women’s choice when the Supreme Court let stand a Texas law effectively outlawing abortion.
Of the area’s three members of Congress, only Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district covers Punta Gorda north to Venice, commented on the issue and did so indirectly.
When the chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, which bills itself as “a privately-owned, feminist healthcare management company” based in Austin, Texas, tweeted on Aug. 31 that the clinic would continue providing abortions right up until the moment the law went into effect, Steube responded on Twitter with a Biblical quotation from the prophet Jeremiah (1:5): “What about the child, who is living in the womb that is about to be murdered, is that not a loved one?”
(Editor’s note: Steube’s citation is not at all what the Old Testament passage states. In it the prophet Jeremiah says that God chose him to be a prophet before his birth. As stated in the King James version: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”)
Steube has consistently voted to restrict women’s choice from the time he began serving the Florida House of Representatives in 2011. During his time in Congress starting in 2019, he received a zero rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a pro-choice lobbying group, based on six key votes.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, has always advertised himself as “A Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man,” so his position on choice is known. There were no key votes on choice-related bills since he took office on Jan. 3 of this year, so he remains unrated by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. As of this writing he had not commented on the Texas law on any platform.
By contrast, Cindy Banyai, his Democratic challenger, issued a lengthy statement.
“Many of us are still reeling from the attacks on one of our most basic civil rights—the right to decide if we are going to be a parent,” she stated. “For decades, Republicans and their far-right extremist allies have attacked women and tried everything they can to keep us from being able to control what happens to our lives and bodies.”
She continued: “My America does not impose forced birth on women and then attack them when they struggle to provide for their families. This isn’t about doing anything other than imposing the choice of fundamentalists on women, fundamentalists who don’t care about the consequences to the mother or the child. We are better than this, and now we must rise to the moment.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district goes from eastern Collier County to Hialeah in the east, has been in the House of Representatives since 2003. He has a 3 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund based on 31 votes. He too had not commented on the Texas law as of this writing.
His challenger, Democrat Adam Gentle, however, had a strong reaction.
“I am sick and tired of women’s health being a political, judicial football,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “Healthcare isn’t a sport. We must codify a woman’s right to choose into our federal law. We can and we must.”
So far there have been no publicly-available polls of attitudes toward abortion in Southwest Florida. But according to reporting on the website FiveThirtyEight, the US public largely opposes overturning the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, ensuring a woman’s right to choose.
In the article “Why Texas’s Abortion Law May Go Too Far For Most Americans,” senior writer Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes that “For decades, Americans have broadly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — despite escalating attempts by anti-abortion advocates to turn public opinion against legal abortion.”
Certainly, when the Georgia legislature passed a Texas-like bill in 2019 it galvanized pro-choice forces there and contributed to that state’s turn toward the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.
“The heartbeat bill was the thing that made them jump” into the Democratic Party column, according to Georgian resident Jen Jordan. (The law was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 and never took effect.)
The same could occur in Florida and nationally as the assault on women’s choice proceeds. “For better or worse, Americans’ views on when abortion should be legal will probably get a lot clearer,” writes Thomson-DeVeaux.
It will also be harder and harder for Southwest Florida representatives to maintain their silence.
New democracy index
FiveThirtyEight has also produced a new metric measuring the degree to which representatives and senators support democracy based on their congressional votes. Users can look up the actions of any member of Congress.
The tool is unveiled in the article “Which Senators and Representatives Vote in Favor of Democracy?”
The article by Laura Bronner looks at two 2021 measures of commitment to democracy: a “bare bones” metric based on six votes “limited to basic requirements like free and, in theory, fair elections and other measures that help safeguard democracy.” A more expansive metric is based on 18 votes and “everything in the first category, but also includes bills that expand civil liberties and who has political power.” This is not based on party affiliation or support for Biden but on those specific votes.
Readers can look up their representatives and senators and see where they fall on the democratic spectrum.
It may not be a surprise, but all three of Southwest Florida’s representatives clock in at 0 percent for bare-bones support for democracy.
The more expansive definition yields different results, however. Diaz-Balart has a 31.6 percent rating while Donalds and Steube both voted for democratic measures only 5.3 percent of the time.
Not mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article is that Donalds has been prominent and vocal in supporting Florida’s legislative efforts to restrict voting access and praised Georgia’s passage of its voter suppression law.
Florida’s two Republican senators yield very different results. Sen. Marco Rubio voted 50 percent of the time in favor of the six key bare-bones democratic measures and 42.9 percent in favor of the 18 more expansive measures. Sen. Rick Scott voted for 25 percent of the bare-bones measures and 28.6 percent in favor of the more expansive proposals.
A happy and restful Labor Day to all.
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg