WASHINGTON (CNS) — Florida Catholics had nothing but positive, faith-driven change for their home state on their minds as they met with legislators in Tallahassee for “Catholic Days at the Capitol.”
The annual two-day event is put on by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the nonpartisan public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state.
Catholics from all over the state make the trek to Tallahassee, which for some is a drive of four or five hours, to speak to state legislators about issues that matter to them.
Beginning March 26, participants were briefed by the state Catholic conference on the legislation they would be advocating for with lawmakers, and the talks with the legislators began afterward.
On the advocacy docket for the Catholics this year are bills dealing with abortion and school choice, and a resolution expressing support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recent moves to expand environmental protections across the state.
The abortion bill could put Florida more firmly on the pro-life side of an intensifying battle on the issue nationwide.
Titled the “Parental Consent for Abortion Act,” it has recently been introduced in both the Florida Senate and House and would prohibit minors from obtaining abortions absent the permission of their parents. The Catholic conference’s backgrounder on the bill said: “A minor’s life will be forever changed whether she has an abortion, chooses to parent, or places a child for adoption. The support of her family is critical for her emotional well-being.”
Should the bill pass, it would put Florida in stark contrast to other populous states such as New York and Illinois, where legislation recently passed or recently considered aims to allow abortion on demand even up to birth.
Sabrina Schultz, director of life, justice and advocacy for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, told Catholic News Service that the bill is necessary and that conversations at the state Capitol concerning it had gone well despite controversy over the measure.
“In the state of Florida, we have parental notice but not parental consent,” Schultz said, noting that in many cases the parents of a minor wishing to abort may never actually receive the notice.
According to Schultz, even Catholic legislators who support legal abortion seemed to be opening up to the idea.
“We had difficulty getting a meeting with one Catholic legislator who was in opposition,” Schultz remarked, but eventually some of the participants were able to catch this lawmaker in the hallway, she said. “A mom spoke to her … (saying), ‘I have four children, you have four children. … Would you not want your daughter to have parental consent?'”
After that personal encounter, Schultz said that the legislator showed signs of shifting on the issue.
Also notable is the support recommended by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops for DeSantis’ proposed budget, which devotes $625 million to protecting Florida’s everglades and other sensitive natural resources.
The backgrounder given to “Catholic Days” participants related the crucial role those resources play in providing Floridians with drinking water and supporting the giant tourism industry of the state, and even channeled Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si'” and its focus on environmental care.
Schultz explained to CNS that any contact the Catholics could make with legislators would be beneficial, however momentary.
“Most of those bills are still in committee. … Even in brief meetings there can be a change of heart,” she said, adding that the mere fact some of them “have taken four or five hours to drive (to Tallahassee)” could impress the men and women at the Statehouse.
Schultz was hopeful the motives of those attending the lobby days would win over policymakers.
“Generally they are not advocating for themselves but for other people,” she said.
During March, Catholics in other states held similar lobbying days at their respective state capitols, among them Texas and Missouri.
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