Make us your home page

The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bills focused on pregnant mothers move through Legislature



Republican-led committees dealt Democrats and Planned Parenthood advocates two blows Wednesday.

The first came in the morning when a House subcommittee advanced a bill that would prevent certain insurers participating in the federal health insurance exchange from providing coverage for abortions. Without this action, insurance plans bought with any federal or state subsidies could offer abortion coverage but must allow for a separate payment.

Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, is the sponsor of mirror legislation. The Legislature approved similar language last year, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

"I am admittedly pro-life," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the bill's sponsor. "But I would think that even for those who are pro-choice, this would not be the most appropriate use of public funds."

His bill passed along party lines, 10-5. Health insurance coverage for an abortion would be possible in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life.

Some Democrats didn't think that was enough -- the bill does not apply to mothers whose health worsens as a result of her pregnancy, though it is not life-or-death, or have deformed or terminally ill fetuses.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, offered an amendment that echoes the federal healthcare law, which requires that at least one plan created by the exchange will offer abortion coverage and at least one would not. For the plan offering abortion coverage, a buyer must essentially write two checks: one for the non-public funded abortion coverage, and another for the rest.

"Let me be clear," she said, "there is no public funding of abortion right now."

She said she did not understand why Florida needed this bill given Florida law. "Many Floridian women will lose health insurance coverage that they already have," she said.

Gaetz dismissed Berman's amendment as an "accounting trick" to get around the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal money being used to pay for abortions under joint federal-state Medicaid programs. The amendment failed, and the bill passed Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee by a vote of 10-5.

Hours later, members of the Senate Transportation Committee passed a bill that would allow fees collected from sales of Choose Life license plates to go straight to Choose Life, Inc., and not counties that are part of the program. Choose Life would allocate the money to non-governmental, not-for-profits that help pregnant women planning for adoption.

The money currently goes to the counties, but nearly a half-million dollars went unspent in 2009-10 due to lack of participation in some rural areas, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. About $683,000 total went to counties that year.

The law already does not allow plate money to be distributed to agencies "associated with abortion activities."

Several senators poked holes in the bill, complaining mainly that it allocated too much money for administrative and marketing purposes that should go to mothers. Still, they passed it 4-2, with two Democrats dissenting.

Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, spoke against these bills at both meetings. The Choose Life legislation was troubling, she said, because as written, it would have removed restrictions on how much money must go toward helping mothers, potentially giving the agencies free reign to do whatever they wished.

Sen. Ronda Storms assured she would work out the kinks before Fasano's bill arrived in Community Affairs.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 7:16pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours