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Odds favor abortion-ultrasound bill

By Gary Fineout
3/3/2009 © Florida Health News

Requiring women to get an ultrasound screening before they can have an abortion, an issue that roiled the past two legislative sessions, is back. This time, its odds of passage have improved.
In the waning moments of last year’s session, an identical bill died on a 20-20 tie vote in the Florida Senate. But two of the seven Republicans who voted against the measure have left the Senate due to term limits.

Backers think they have enough votes this year to get the legislation to the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist, who has been unwilling to say whether he would let the bill become law. 

“It will be probably very close again,’’ said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando and the Senate sponsor of the legislation. “It’s something I feel very passionate about and it’s something that I believe we should give everyone an opportunity to see again.’’
The legislation will likely trigger another emotional battle between abortion opponents, who view it as a deterrent,  and abortion-rights advocates. They say that lawmakers have no business deciding which medical procedures should be required. 

“We are legislators and not medical doctors,’’ said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton. “This is a medical decision that a medical doctor should make with the patient.’’ 

Skidmore questioned why lawmakers would inject abortion into a session where lawmakers must grapple with a $5 billion budget deficit and the effects of the ongoing recession. 

“It takes our focus away from the issues that are really important to Floridians and what we should be spending our time on,’’ Skidmore said. 

This marks the third straight session that antiabortion lawmakers have attempted to get the ultrasound requirement into state law. The past two years the measure cleared the Florida House only to fail once it reached the Senate. 

Six other states have some type of ultrasound requirement, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Ultrasound is a diagnostic tool used by obstetrics practices to determine whether a woman is pregnant, the approximate length of gestation, and whether there are abnormalities that could threaten either the patient or the fetus.

When done before an abortion, the main purpose medically would be to determine the gestational age of the fetus. Abortion techniques may be different depending on the stage of pregnancy.

The price is usually included in the abortion total, the bill analysis said, but separately the price would typically be $100 to $200.

Florida law already requires ultrasound for abortions in the second and third trimester of pregnancy. About 90 percent of abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks; while it's not required legally, ultrasound is performed in about 80 percent of them, according to the bill analysis.

So, as a practical matter, the legislation, SB 1854 and HB 983, would have two principal effects: It would expand the number of women receiving ultrasound before abortion by around 20 percent, and would require them to sign a statement if they did not want to review the results.

The ultrasound requirement can be waived if a woman shows that she is the victim of rape, incest or domestic violence, or if the physician believes the pregnancy would cause a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” 

Backers say that they are just trying to make sure women make “an informed decision” before they go ahead with an abortion. 

“I think it’s important for women when they are getting ready to make this very difficult decision that they have as much information as possible, as much information as they need to make an informed decision,’’ said Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and House sponsor of the legislation. 

--Gary Fineout. a free-lance writer in Tallahassee, can be reached at this e-mail address.