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The new year in Florida: abortion rights, vaccination hesitancy and 'parental rights' in education

A child receives an immunization vaccine.
A child receives an immunization vaccine.

On this episode of The Florida Roundup, we took a look at some of this year’s most compelling stories from across the state and how they’ll play out in the new year.

Abortion regulation in Florida

The landmark Supreme Court case Roe v Wade was overturned, giving states the ability to regulate or ban abortion. Trigger laws in some states went into effect immediately, such as Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Abortion rights groups promptly sued the state — plaintiffs are now waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to decide on the legal challenge.

With a Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate, there is a chance we will see lawmakers attempt to ban abortions after six-weeks or altogether next year.

Kerry Sheridan, a health and K-12 reporter for WUSF, said that the right to abortion is used heavily in Florida, and a law banning abortions would have serious effects.

She said research from the Guttmacher Institute indicates that 24% of women in Florida already live in counties with no abortion clinic.

“But Florida has one of the highest rates of abortion in all of the 50 states … Florida has 19 abortions per 1000 women of reproductive age, and that’s about twice the national average of about 11," Sheridan said.

Many Florida Republicans have been hesitant to say how far they want to go with further restrictions on abortion, according to Sheridan. But Senate president Kathleen Passidomo said in an interview she would like to see the 15-week abortion ban reduced to 12-weeks.

For now, Sheridan says it’s hard to tell exactly what they want to do in the next year.

Vaccine hesitancy and child immunization

Health plays a significant role in schools and education as well. During the pandemic we’ve seen battles play out over vaccinations and masking for children K-12. School vaccinations for kindergartners and seventh graders have fallen to a 10-year low.

Daniel Chang, Florida health correspondent for Kaiser Health News, said that lower vaccination numbers bring an increased risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. He also said that the state and county health departments are in a tricky position when it comes to encouraging these vaccinations.

“Elected officials and our surgeon general are very much against vaccinating healthy young children against covid, and unfortunately that message resonates to other vaccination efforts,” he said.

Pediatricians and the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians have told Chang that they’re concerned this anti-vaccine sentiment will spread to other vaccines that have been long accepted and are required to enter schools in Florida.

“If you look at the rate of religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations required to enter into schools in Florida, they’re rising,” he said. “In some counties they’re as high as 10%."

Chang said the main repercussion we might see from this growing anti-vaccine sentiment is the increased likelihood of outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles or mumps.

On The Florida Roundup, we also looked at education in the state, as 'parental rights' — through HB 1557, The Parental Rights in Education Act — were key for conservatives and the governor. Additionally, we discussed the influence national politics might have on Florida in the new year.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.