ST. PETERSBURG — Carrying colorful signs seeking "one giant veto for womankind" and to "keep choice legal," a group organized by Planned Parenthood rallied Thursday morning outside Gov. Charlie Crist's condominium, urging him to veto the so-called ultrasound bill.
Acknowledging the protesters, Crist sounded increasingly receptive to their message in an interview Thursday with the St. Petersburg Times' editorial board.
The bill, HB 1143, would require women seeking abortions in early pregnancy to view an ultrasound and hear a description of the embryo. The measure would make women pay for the procedure. It also would restrict private insurance coverage for abortions.
One day after changing his party affiliation from Republican to independent in his wild-card U.S. Senate bid, Crist said he remains pro-life, but has issues with the "abortion bill."
"It almost strikes me as mean-spirited and costly," he told the Times. "That's clearly one of the most difficult decisions any woman would have to make. I just don't know that having a woman lectured at that time is the right way to go."
Crist has not yet received the bill, though it is expected to land on his desk next week. After that, he will have 15 calendar days to decide to sign or veto.
More than 60 people waved signs outside the governor's downtown St. Petersburg condo, encouraging Crist to break with the conservative Republicans in the Legislature who pushed the measure through in the final hours of the session.
Protesters chanted: "What do we want? Veto. When do we want it? Now."
Mary Freeman, 66, of Largo, said she saw Crist leaving shortly before the 10:30 a.m. rally and flashed him a peace symbol.
The protest was one of a series of statewide rallies Planned Parenthood held Thursday. In St. Petersburg, the women and handful of men who attended shared concerns about the government intruding into health care decisions. Some feared recent antiabortion legislation in Florida and nationally could be a precursor to the return of illegal, backroom abortions.
"It's not right for legislators to decide what kind of health care women can get," said 35-year-old Jennifer Robinson of Clearwater, the membership director for Florida NOW. "(Abortion) is a critical piece of health care."
Crist said the doctors in his family also have weighed in on the legislation, which is vague on exactly how physicians would have to treat and talk to patients. Some local physicians have criticized lawmakers for intruding on their clinical expertise and the patient-doctor relationship.
While the bill does allow women to decline to view the ultrasound images, they would have to sign a form acknowledging they did so. Women with proof they are victims of rape, incest or domestic violence would be exempt.
While Crist stopped short of saying he would veto the bill Thursday, his public statements on the measure have become increasingly critical.
"It strikes me as intrusive," he said. "That's where my discomfort comes from."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.