In the latest round in Florida's abortion battles, lawmakers Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would increase clinic regulations and bar public funding for organizations associated with abortion clinics.
The bill (HB 1411) created familiar divisions in the House and Senate, with supporters saying stepped-up clinic regulations are needed and that tax dollars should not go to organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide abortion services. But critics said the bill was an attempt to limit the ability of women to have abortions and would lead to a costly legal challenge.
"This decision (about having an abortion) is personal for a woman, her family and her faith … a truly personal decision,'' Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood said in opposing the bill. "Many women and men believe that the government has no right to interfere with this personal decision."
But Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said he was speaking for "sweet innocent babies" whose lives could be threatened if the bill did not pass.
"You have killed a living soul. That is what abortion really is. It's murder,'' Hays said. "We, as a state, need to do everything that we can to not sanction murder."
The Senate voted 25-15 to approve the bill, with Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the only Republican to cross party lines and vote against the measure.
The House initially approved the bill last week but had to vote again Wednesday after the Senate made a change. House members voted 76-40 to give final approval, with Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, and Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, crossing party lines to support it. Six Republicans --- Tom Goodson of Titusville, Bill Hager of Delray Beach, Mike Miller of Winter Park, Ray Pilon of Sarasota, Rene Plasencia of Orlando and Holly Raschein of Key Largo --- voted against the bill.
The measure now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, who is an abortion opponent.
Parts of the bill deal with regulatory issues, including adding a requirement that the Agency for Health Care Administration conduct annual inspections of abortion clinics and review at least 50 percent of patient records. Also, the bill would require arrangements between clinics and hospitals. For example, clinics that provide first-trimester abortions would be required to have written patient-transfer agreements with hospitals or the clinic physicians would be required to have admitting privileges at hospitals "within a reasonable proximity."
One of the most heavily debated parts of the bill deals with barring public funds for organizations affiliated with abortion clinics. While such funds don't go for elective abortions, they can be used for other services provided by the clinics.
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said the bill would prevent women from receiving preventive health services from Planned Parenthood.
"This bill is a vicious attack on women in this state," Pafford said.
But Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said tax dollars should not go to facilities that perform elective abortions.
"The idea that my taxpayer dollars, and my family's taxpayer dollars and the taxpayer dollars of individuals who feel like we do about this issue … the idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions, that is simply intolerable," Bradley said.
Abortion-related laws have repeatedly drawn legal challenges over the years, including a case now pending at the Florida Supreme Court about a 2015 law that requires 24-hour waiting periods before women can have abortions.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, argued Wednesday that the new bill is unconstitutional because of a privacy provision in the Florida Constitution. He said there is no evidence of a "compelling state interest" to make the changes.
But House sponsor Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said an amendment approved by the Senate before the final votes was aimed at making sure the measure meets constitutional tests.
"Our intent is to put forward a piece of legislation that is constitutionally sound," Burton said.