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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

State Senate passes abortion bill created in Planned Parenthood controversy's wake

9

March

The Florida Senate has passed a bill that would block abortion clinics from receiving state money for services like cancer screenings and require their doctors to have privileges at a nearby hospital.

HB 1411, which passed the chamber 25-15, now heads back to the House for final passage, required after the Senate removed language from the beginning of the bill.

State law already bans any taxpayer dollars funding abortions. But about $200,000 from Medicaid are spent on testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings and preventative care at abortion clinics.

Antiabortion advocates in the Legislature assert that’s tantamount to supporting abortions. Instead, they want that money to be spent in other kinds of clinics, like crisis pregnancy centers and federally qualified health centers.

“The idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions is simply intolerable,” Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.

They further argue that tougher rules are necessary to bring abortion clinics in line with other health care facilities, like ambulatory care centers.

“This bill says we’re going to treat abortion clinics the same way that we treat other similarly situated clinics,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the bill’s sponsor.

It was also brought about in the wake of controversy over videos released online appearing to show Planned Parenthood doctors in other states talking about a fetal remains donation program.

The bill would make tougher restrictions against improperly disposing of fetal remains. And it would change the definition of trimesters in state laws to validate state regulators’ argument in a series of complaints filed last year against Planned Parenthood.

But opponents say the tough new rules would hurt women who seek out health care. It would cut funding for preventive care at six Planned Parenthood clinics.

“If the true aim were life, this measure would not only allow but boost the funding for these clinics that provide prenatal care to mothers and babies and expand affordable health care for Floridians,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said.

They also say the bill won’t cut back on abortions. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, an abortion rights supporter who voted with Democrats against the new regulations, said the issue reminds her of anti-smoking campaigns.

“Just because you took everybody’s ash trays away doesn’t mean they quit smoking,” Detert said. “Just because we make it more difficult for people to get an abortion or more expensive doesn’t mean that those people who want an abortion aren’t going to try to get one. They’ve done it historically for hundreds of years.”

Other senators, including Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, the first woman elected president of the Florida Senate, called the legislation an “outrage.” She said the Legislature continues to move abortion bills each year because it’s “not a women’s chamber.”

The issue could get tied up in the courts, which have interpreted strict privacy protections in Florida’s Constitution to mean the Legislature cannot pass regulations with the intent of restricting access to abortions.

Language put into the bill by the Florida House stated that its goal is “to protect all human life by regulating the termination of pregnancies.” That could have caused problems in the courts, said Stargel. She said she tried hard to ensure the bill was constitutional.

“Those clauses gave me concern that it would make it as though our intent was to close down all abortion clinics in the state,” Stargel said Tuesday. “That was not the intent of this bill.”

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, a case alleging that a Texas law with similar provisions is unconstitutional. After being passed in 2013, that legislation led to the closure of 20 clinics. On Friday, the Court instituted an injunction to stop a law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges in Louisiana.

In Florida, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period signed into law last summer is in the middle of its own court challenge.

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2016 1:29pm]

    

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