Thursday, January 18, 2018
Health

Abortion measure passes House, prospects in Senate uncertain

TALLAHASSEE — Women seeking an abortion would first have to wait 24 hours and new clinics would be physician-owned as part of a sweeping antiabortion measure passed by the House on Thursday.

Passage of HB 277 was unsurprising in the conservative-dominated House, though a handful of lawmakers from both sides broke party lines in the 78-33 vote.

"This isn't an insidious war against women," said Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, echoing a talking point from debate. "It's a righteous war for children."

The proposal faces a steep hurdle in the Senate, where its companion (SB 290) is stuck in committees and is not scheduled to be considered again. Senate leaders can still revive the bill, but Senate President Mike Haridopolos sounded lukewarm to the idea when asked by reporters.

"If I believe we have the time to dedicate to that issue, I'm willing to take a look at it," he said. "But at this point it's still at the second committee of reference."

Debate on Thursday picked up where it left off at 11 p.m. Wednesday, with House Democrats criticizing the proposal of Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview.

Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, told Burgin on Thursday, "You have done a masterful job defending something that I truly think is indefensible."

Aside from the waiting period and ownership requirements for new clinics — which targets Planned Parenthood — the bill would require physicians to describe the steps that could be painful to a fetus 20 weeks or older, though the idea of fetal pain is of ongoing debate among scientists. A physician also would have to offer to administer anesthesia to the fetus.

Physicians also would take three hours of ethics training each year, a requirement Democrats considered unfair along with the physician ownership portion.

This is not standard practice for medical businesses, said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "One example of this is our governor, who has owned numerous hospitals and isn't a physician," he said.

Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, countered by saying the bill provides "reasonable restrictions on the business of abortion," and the requirement that clinics be wholly owned by physicians trained in abortion procedures "ensures accountability."

Some questioned another provision in the bill: that the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates abortion clinics, collect data of each procedure, including patient age, gestational age, race, marital status, number of previous live births, number of previous abortions and hometown.

The data would be submitted to the federal government and posted on a website for public view, leading Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, to suggest it could identify women in small towns.

Senate sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she hopes the bill — which could face a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union — can find its way to the Senate floor before the session ends March 9.

Times/Herald staff writer Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.

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