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House Approves 24-Hour Waiting Period For Abortions

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

With the Senate also poised to take up the issue, the Florida House on Wednesday approved a bill that would require 24-hour waiting periods before women can have abortions.

The measure (HB 633), sponsored by freshman Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, passed on a vote of 77-41, largely along party lines.

The debate followed party lines, too, with Republicans arguing for the sanctity of life and Democrats arguing for the right to choose.

"This is not a procedure --- it is a life," said Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness. "Representative Sullivan, the greatest consequence of your bill is a beautiful baby."

But House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, called the bill "an example of government intrusion."

"This is not a reflection period --- this is a 24-hour ban," Pafford said.

The bill would add the 24-hour waiting period to the conditions for informed consent before women can end pregnancies. The full Senate on Thursday is expected to take up an identical measure (SB 724).

Sullivan said her bill would "empower" women by giving them more time to reflect before making such decisions.

"I am here today as an advocate for those women who are being pressured," she said Wednesday.

Elected last year at age 23, Sullivan has said she's witnessed pressure placed upon women by their loved ones --- especially a spouse or a boyfriend --- to make a hasty decision about having abortions.

"I care about the women who have sat in my office," she said. "I care about the women who have cried in committee."

But House Democrats contended that the bill was just another barrier to safe, legal abortion in Florida.

"Little by little, this state is whittling away at this right," said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

"Not only does this bill not empower women, I believe it takes our power away," Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, said. "If I have to wait, you've taken my power away from me for a decision I've already made --- as if I can't make decisions on my own, in my own time."

The bill's supporters, however, said abortion should require a waiting period for the same reasons that other medical procedures are delayed.

"Abortion is the outlier," said Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican who is a physician. "No other elective, significant, surgical procedure is ever done on the same day as the initial consultation …whether it's having your knee repaired, your gall bladder taken out or your buttocks improved. People change their minds. They do it all the time."

Applause followed many of the speeches supporting the bill, intimations of the vote to come.

Democrats already had tried to amend the bill to alleviate what they called a hardship to poor women, for whom two trips to abortion clinics in other counties would represent additional costs and, in many cases, extra time off from work and family obligations.

Sullivan rejected proposals to allow women to consult with doctors online or to have nurses explain the procedure on the first visit.

On Tuesday, however, Sullivan accepted an amendment by Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, to include exceptions for women who are victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking.

Those exceptions could be granted only if women have police reports, restraining orders, medical records or other documentation to show why they should not have to make two trips to have abortions.

But Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said that as "a retired cop," he knew well that most victims do not report such crimes.

"A woman is violated by a family member --- incest, domestic violence --- do you think she's going to run to the police and report it?" Torres asked. "We see what women suffer. They don't tell anyone."