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House passes abortion bill by 71-42 vote

04/28/07 © Florida Health News
Following two hours of emotional debate, the Florida House Friday passed an abortion bill that proponents say protects a woman’s rights and opponents say takes them away.

Among its key requirements is that a women must have an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having abortion. 

The 71 to 42 vote approving the bill fell largely along party lines, with only two Republicans voting against the measure.

The bill, originally more limited in scope, under went a major rewrite in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s April 17 decision upholding a law banning partial birth abortions. It had been predicted the ruling might lead some states to consider broadening existing abortion laws.

Sponsor Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, denied the measure was an attack on Roe v. Wade, but argued that the recent court decision “said the state does have an interest in abortion.” 

Citing stories told him by women who later regretted their decisions to have an abortion, Traviesa said the bill’s 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion would give them time to consider an “irreversible, irreparable decision.”

He said the bill would assure that women made informed choices and were protected from undue pressure to have an abortion.

The bill is on its way to the Senate, where a widely different abortion regulation bill awaits action.

SB 1602, sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R- Brandon, applies to minors only. It requires appointment of a guardian ad litem and outlines factors for a judge to consider before granting approval for an abortion.

Among the most controversial provisions of House bill is a mandate that women who want an abortion must first have an ultrasound to verify the gestational age of the fetus.

Health care providers would be required to allow the woman to view the ultrasound images and, if she declines, must certify in writing that she did so of her own free will.

Victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking or women at risk of serious medical problems if an abortion were not performed are exempted from the ultrasound provision.

“This is an egregious provision that will damage a young woman psychologically,” charged Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach.

Fellow Democrat Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said he was personally opposed to abortion, but feared the $200 to $400 estimated cost of the ultrasound would drive some women to seek abortions from “back alley” providers who wouldn’t require the procedure.

He urged that the bill be delayed a year to allow legislators to find funding for the procedure.

Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, countered that the ultrasound requirement was needed to provide accurate information to both the patient and her doctor. “This bill offers women good, safe medical care,” she said.

The 24-hour waiting period, originally limited to minors, was another focal point of debate on the bill. The waiting period would not apply to medical emergencies as currently defined in law.

Claiming the bill had been “high-jacked by special interests,” Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, said the waiting period violated a woman’s constitutional rights and sent a message that women weren’t capable or mature enough to make their own decisions.

Rep. Aaron Beach, R-Fernandina Beach, and other proponents noted that state law mandates a three-day waiting period for home loans, gym memberships and gun permits. “Twenty-four hours for a life-altering decision is a heartbeat,” said Rep. Stephen Precourt, R-Winter Garden.

The bill also: 

  • Requires that a third trimester abortion be performed in a hospital.
  • Prohibits a doctor from requesting that a woman seeking an abortion waive her right to file a complaint with the appropriate regulatory board or file a lawsuit. 
  • Provides for a civil cause of action against any health care provider who violates the 17-point Women’s Bill of Reproductive Rights.
  • Allows the parent or legal guardian of a minor who has not received notice that an abortion has been performed to seek monetary damages for all injuries, both psychological and physical.
  • Sets the parameters and penalties for lawsuits arising from abortion-related injury or death, authorizing the patient, parents, guardians or personal representatives to seek damages.