Abortion Restriction Bills Moving Forward
The Florida Legislature is considering several new measures to restrict abortions, including one with a strong chance of passage that calls for a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can undergo the procedure.
That measure, House Bill 0633, would require that a woman make one trip to the clinic for legally required counseling before coming back 24 hours later for the procedure. Another measure, House Bill 147, with less chance of passage, would require that abortion clinic doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Waiting periods and admitting privileges have been part of unsuccessful Florida legislation in past years, but not as separate bills.
Abortion opponents say the measures are intended to safeguard women's health, but some acknowledge that restricting access and cutting the number of abortions is one goal.
"My purpose is to empower women to have 24 hours to be able to reflect on the possible complications of having an abortion or of not having one," said Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, who is the sponsor of the waiting-period bill.
John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer and religious conservative leader, said waiting periods are "very reasonable," but added, "We want to choke this procedure with regulations that will pass constitutional muster."
Pro-abortion rights supporters argue the bills are vulnerable to court challenges under the Florida Constitution, which says every person "has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life."
"These are all concocted regulations that are designed to shut down abortions for women, deceitfully marketed as concerning health," said Florida American Civil Liberties Union director Howard Simon. "They're written by politicians, not doctors. They're about politics, not women's health."
Along with waiting period and admitting privileges bills, there is the "Florida for Life Act," a ban on most abortions that would challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, has introduced the bill, House Bill 247, every year since 2010, but even anti-abortion forces don't consider it feasible.
"It would immediately be struck down," Stemberger said. "It would be wasting political capital."
Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, a religious conservative champion, said declining numbers of abortions indicate anti-abortion forces are winning gradually with lesser measures.
"Sometimes our job is just to stand until the culture reflects what is right," he said. "The hearts of people are turning."
Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy group, said Florida abortions went from 94,360 in 2008 to 84,990 in 2011, the most recent reliable figures. She said that's because the recession and increased use of long-term birth control measures such as the IUD reduced pregnancies.
Nash said waiting periods are meaningless because studies show more than 90 percent of patients make up their minds about an abortion before making an initial appointment. Requiring two trips would create problems for low-income women taking time off work and arranging travel and child care, she said.
Rep. Lori Berman, a Democrat from Lantana who is pro-abortion rights, called the waiting period bill "just another attempt to chip away around the edges of Roe v. Wade."
Baxley said the admitting privileges bill is needed because, "Physicians should be able to follow through with a patient and not dump them on the emergency room" in case of a complication.
But Nash said less than 0.3 percent of abortions result in such complications, and that admitting privileges don't affect whether a patient gets quick hospital treatment.
"It's an economic relationship" between a hospital and doctor, often with requirements abortion providers can't meet, such as admitting a minimum number of patients, she said.
In Florida, 72 clinics provide abortions, she said. In Texas, the admitting privilege requirement forced half the state's 40 clinics to close.
Forcing closures could mean the bill is less likely to be upheld in Florida, and therefore less likely to pass, said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, an abortion rights opponent.
Such bills face a high hurdle in Florida because of its privacy right, Simon said.