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House Panel Targets Abortion Procedure

Florida Legislature
Florida House of Representatives
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A bill that would restrict the most common type of second-trimester abortion is ready for a floor vote in the Florida House. 

In a 13-6 vote, the House Health & Human Services Committee on Thursday approved a bill (HB 1429) that would impose new restrictions on doctors performing dilation-and-evacuation abortions, in which a woman’s cervix is dilated and the fetus is removed in pieces. 

“Often the process begins while the fetus is living, and fetal death occurs due to or as a result of the trauma caused by the procedure,” says Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican who is sponsoring the bill. 

She said the legislation, which has cleared two other House committees, “expresses respect for the dignity of life by prohibiting a physician from performing this brutal procedure and tortious dismemberment on a living fetus. 

But Barbara DeVane, representing the Florida National Organization of Women, opposed the bill and complained that some House members on previous committees had unfairly criticized the bill’s opponents. 

She said the members have taken “every opportunity to disrespect, shame and denigrate those of us who have the courage to come up here and stand up for our rights and women’s reproductive freedom.” 

The procedure, known by opponents as a “dismemberment abortion,” would be prohibited unless the heart of a fetus is stopped first, either by the injection of a drug, like potassium chloride, or by severing the umbilical cord. The bill would allow an exception when a woman’s life is in danger and if no other medical procedures would suffice. 

Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a third-degree felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years and fines up to $5,000. 

Kathi Aultman, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who previously performed abortions, gave graphic testimony on the procedure, which can include the crushing and severing of a fetus’ body parts.

“I support this bill because it prevents the infliction of needless pain and suffering on an innocent human being with only minor inconvenience to the mother and the abortionist,” says Aultman, who works with the Charlotte Rozier Institute, an advocacy and research group opposed to abortion. 

Thursday’s debate was civil, with Grall saying abortion is a “divisive” issue. “However, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it,” she says. 

Grall says the bill was not “ideal” for her, since she is “unabashedly pro-life” and wants to ban all abortions. She noted abortions would still occur if the bill becomes law, although the procedure would have to be changed. 

“This is my middle,” Grall says. “I’m acknowledging that this is happening. Can we please come to some sense of humanity and respect for life, the unborn life in it, when it will not affect the mother’s ability to get an abortion?” 

Eight states have enacted similar restrictions on the dilation-and-evacuation abortion procedure, with opponents in at least six states challenging the laws in court as an unconstitutional restriction of a woman’s right to an abortion, according to House analysts. 

A similar bill (SB 1890), sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, has not been heard in Senate committees with three weeks left in the annual legislative session.