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History Of The Pro-Life Movement In Florida

The Pro-Life movement began in Florida in early 1971 by a Belle Glade physician, Dr. John Grady under the name of Florida Right to Life Committee, after an initial attempt by pro-abortion forces to push for a permissive abortion law in the state.

At first introduction of such a law into the Florida legislature in the spring of 1971, individuals Jean Doyle and Arlene Pelzer of Orlando made a trip to Tallahassee to lobby against its passage.

Shortly after, they attended a National Right to Life Committee Convention at McCallister College in St. Paul, Minnesota and brought back plans for a statewide pro-life organization. Permission was granted by Dr. Grady to adopt the pro-life name, platform and program established by him for statewide action.

The first state board meeting was held in September of 1971 in Orlando. Incorporation as an educational, non-profit organization followed, and existing pro-life organizations were invited to unite with Florida Right to Life Committee, Inc.

In Spring of 1972, the Florida legislature passed a permissive abortion law. At the same time, pro-abortion forces, not satisfied with the new law, were attempting to get an abortion-on-demand proposal on the 1972 Florida ballot. Both of these happenings led to the organization of many new pro-life groups around the state.

Pro-lifers rejoiced at the failure of the abortion-on-demand proposal to get on the Florida ballot, but their relief was short lived because on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States, deciding Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, announced that a new personal liberty existed in the Constitution – the liberty of a woman to kill her unborn child by abortion at any time during the nine months of her pregnancy. The unborn child, thus ignored by the Court, became identified as a non-person.

Its ruling also made invalid the state regulations on abortion in every state in the Union. Because of the Supreme Court opinion Human life today has less protection in the United States than at any time since the inception of this country.

The legislation of abortion also gave great impetus to the euthanasia forces which were beginning to surface. Dr. Walter Sackett, a Florida representative, had repeatedly attempted to get a so-called ‘Death With Dignity’ bill passed in the Florida legislature. In its latest decision on July 1, 1976, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that parents could not veto an abortion decision of their minor daughter, and that a husband could not prevent his wife from having an abortion.

Both the Supreme Court decision of 1973 and that of 1976 point up the need for national action. The thrust is for educational and political action to pass a Human Life Amendment to U.S. Constitution. Chapter organizations of Florida Right to Life Inc., each functioning in its own area, promote activities toward this end.

At the same time, they are actively working in the state legislature to pass abortion-regulatory laws. In the spring of 1976, directly due to intense lobbying efforts by Florida Right to Life Inc., the Florida legislature passed two such laws – H.B. 1218, requiring abortion on referral agencies, clinics included, to furnish a full and detailed explanation of abortion, including the effects of the alternatives to abortion’ to each applicant, and prohibiting kickbacks for referrals; and S.B. 60, prohibiting abortion in the third trimester unless two doctors certify that it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Heading up national pro-life activities is the National Right to Life Committee, Inc., in Washington D. C. Its Board consists of one representative from each of the 50 states. Strong lines of communication are kept open between the national office and state organizations so that a unified effort may be made to amend the United States Constitution.

Since Florida Right to Life’s inception, abortion on demand has been limited in the state of Florida. Most recently, Florida Right to Life’s efforts helped pass the parental notification amendment and revisions strengthening that bill, and the ultrasound bill, requiring that a woman seeking an abortion first be provided with the opportunity to view ultrasound images of her unborn child. Numerous other pro-life bills have been recommended, championed and passed under Florida Right to Life’s guidance and support in the organization’s long history in this state.