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Senate Panel Passes Sweeping Bill Tightening Abortion-Clinic Regulations

A sweeping bill that would tighten regulations on abortion clinics passed a Senate panel Wednesday on a 5-3 vote along party lines.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure (SB 1722), sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The bill bans the sale and donation of fetal remains from an abortion and increases the penalties for the improper disposal of fetal remains. It also restricts state agencies, local governments and Medicaid managed-care plans from contracting with organizations that own, operate or are affiliated with clinics that perform abortions.

"Don't force us to pay for this horrible procedure," said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. "Leave the taxpayers out of it."

The bill also would require clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to have transfer agreements with nearby hospitals, or for their doctors to have admitting privileges nearby. Clinics that perform second-trimester abortions would have to meet both conditions. And the state would inspect at least 50 percent of abortion-clinic records each year.

Sen. Joseph Abruzo, D-Wellington, said the bill would punish people for performing a legal activity.

"I listen to the debates that go on in the halls of the Legislature about governmental interference," he said. "This is the one issue that I see that there's a constant push to have government get involved, regulate what is legal, try to direct what is going to occur, just based on ideological belief, not the law of the land."

Several senators indicated that while they supported the bill philosophically, they expected to work with Stargel to further tweak the proposal.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, said she and Stargel were discussing how to ensure the legislation wouldn't violate federal rules about lower-income women's access to medical care. In 11 counties, she said, Planned Parenthood or a similar provider offers health care and family-planning services to low-income women, in addition to abortion.

Opponents of the bill, like Missy Wesolowski of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said it would force many clinics to close.

"This bill is medically unnecessary," she said. "It is 12 pages of targeted regulations of abortion providers."

And Michelle Richardson of the ACLU of Florida called the measure "a sort of omnibus anti-choice bill ... We're concerned that some of the requirements, without any medical reason, might regulate providers in such a way that will limit access to health care."

She said the bill was partly aimed at punishing Planned Parenthood, which has been the target of a national controversy since last summer, when videos surfaced implicating the organization was profiting from selling fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood vehemently denied the allegations, and an investigation cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing.

"There's going to be a lot of collateral damage," Richardson said, if funding is removed from Planned Parenthood.

The Senate bill faces one more committee stop, in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, before heading to the floor. The House companion (HB 1411), filed by Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, has passed all its committees and is ready for a floor vote.