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Abortion Restrictions Pass House Panel After Debate

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Florida House
The Florida Channel
State Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, is sponsoring a wide-ranging abortion bill.

After a passionate debate, a House panel on Tuesday approved a wide-ranging bill that would place more regulations on abortion clinics and address issues such as the sale or donation of fetal tissue.

The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 1411), filed by state Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, on a party-line vote of 9-4.

The bill, in part, would require clinics that perform abortions after the first trimester to have patient-transfer agreements with nearby hospitals and would require physicians who perform abortions at the clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Abortion clinics that perform only first-trimester abortions would be required to have transfer agreements or their physicians would be required to have admitting privileges.

Currently, according to a House staff analysis, the state requires medical directors of abortion clinics to have either admitting privileges at nearby hospitals or transfer agreements, but not both. Clinics that provide only first-trimester abortions are not required to have transfer agreements, nor are their physicians required to have admitting privileges.

“While this particular procedure has an emotional component that many others don't, it is a medical procedure and therefore deserves the same consideration regarding the health of the patient that other procedures get here in the state of Florida,” Burton said.

Michelle Richardson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said there was no medical justification for the additional requirements.

"Rather, this bill is part of a politically motivated attack aimed at closing clinics by imposing restrictions that are impossible to meet, thereby blocking women's access to abortion," she wrote in a statement after the vote. "That is why medical experts like the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose this type of admitting privileges requirement."

Among other things, the bill also would increase the number of abortion-case files the state Agency for Health Care Administration would review each year from a relative handful to 50 percent. In 2014, according to the bill analysis, more than 72,000 abortions were performed in Florida.

Burton's bill would add an additional one-half of one full-time state position to review the additional case files. Her amendment authorizing roughly $284,000 was passed. She said she'd received the calculation from the Agency for Health Care Administration.

But Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, scoffed at the possibility that so much work could be done with so little extra expenditure.

"As an accountant, I'm insulted by the fiscal calculation," he said. "Maybe one day we'll get the real number on this."

The bill also would require agencies that counsel women considering abortions to register with the state --- unless they are counseling women against having abortions. For instance, pro-life churches that counsel women would be exempt, Burton said.

The bill also would ban public funding for organizations that own, operate or are otherwise affiliated with licensed abortion clinics. Also, it would prohibit selling, buying or donating fetal remains obtained through abortions.

Democrats on the panel questioned whether the additional requirements would drive out of business abortion providers that offer other health services, such as contraception and cancer screening.

"The (Florida) Department of Health has in the last years been cutting their staff," said Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey. "Do you think that this is going to start limiting cancer screenings and contraception services for those persons who might be going to what is considered an abortion clinic today?"

"No, I do not," Burton replied. "We have AHCA and the Department of Health who are responsible for that. We also have our (Medicaid managed care) providers, who are responsible for making sure that those services are available. … If in fact a need arises, providers will step up to the plate."

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said more than half of child-bearing-age women have incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

"I worry about the women in Florida who are desperately in need of publicly funded contraceptive services," Cruz said. "I was one of those women a long time ago --- my life is very different today --- but I was one of those women."

She went on to say that Florida has the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the nation, "yet we want to put forward a bill that reduces access to HIV testing. This bill is much more than barriers to abortion --- this bill is barriers for low-income women to receive care."

House Health & Human Services Chairman Jason Brodeur, R- Sanford, noted that most of the people making comments had been against the bill, "but it is going to pass in a big way in the House. … We're going to defend life."