TALLAHASSEE — Women seeking a first-trimester abortion in Florida will not be required to have an ultrasound.
The measure was defeated Wednesday in a rare 20-20 tie vote in the Florida Senate.
Seven Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat one of the last priorities of Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, a respected conservative lawmaker who leaves office this year.
Only one of nine female senators, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, and one Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, supported the plan.
The vote spares Republican Gov. Charlie Crist from having to weigh in on the issue. He had declined to say if he would sign or veto the bill.
"My personal opinion: Unless we ovulate, we have no place making decisions affecting women's reproductive rights," said longtime Sen. Jim King, a moderate Jacksonville Republican who worked behind the scenes to engineer the bill's demise.
"She shouldn't have to go through extra hoops imposed by government to exercise her constitutional right."
King and the other six Republicans who voted no — Dennis Jones of Seminole, Lisa Carlton of Osprey, Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Mike Bennett of Bradenton and Burt Saunders of Naples — went against their party leader on an issue he holds personal.
Webster, a longtime conservative Baptist, fought for the ultrasound bill as a final piece of legislation in a 28-year state political career that sunsets when the session ends Friday.
"I'm pro-life, so I want to see as many people think as long as they can about it before having (an abortion)," Webster said. "I've had six kids. Those ultrasounds are awesome. They impacted me, they impacted my wife."
Under the bill (SB2400), a similar version of which already passed the House (HB257), doctors would be required to offer to show and explain the ultrasound image to women seeking first-trimester abortions. While women could decline to view the image by signing a form, they would still be required to have the ultrasound — an expense opponents decried.
Doctors would not have to offer to show the ultrasound to victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking, or those who have serious medical reasons for seeking the abortion.
But those women would have to show documentation proving their situation — a requirement sexual abuse victim advocates opposed. Most rape and incest victims, they say, do not report the crimes out of fear and embarrassment.
"The rape victim, the incest victim, the human trafficking victim, is subjected to a revictimization under this bill," said Saunders.
Democrat Dave Aronberg of Greenacres called the proposal an "unfunded mandate on poor women."
Ultrasounds cost between $100 and $200.
"If you are looking at biblical passages or morality to support this, remember: The Bible does mention the poor," Aronberg said.
Ultrasounds are already required before second or third trimester abortions in Florida, but those so-called "late-term" abortions represent only 5 percent of the roughly 95,000 abortions performed here each year.
Webster argued that his bill simply expanded the ultrasound requirement. And he and supporters said most clinics do ultrasounds anyway to determine the fetus' age.
But opponents cautioned against requiring anything that might infringe on the doctor-patient relationship. And they said the bill was a clear attempt to deter women from getting abortions.
"With this, we're hoping that by making them see, making them hear, making them sign a sheet, that they'll be less inclined to make that decision," King said.
King, a former Senate president who served with Webster in the House, worked in recent days to cobble together enough Republican no votes for a defeat.
He and the other six Republicans who voted no on Wednesday were among the so-called "Schiavo Nine," Republican senators who in 2005 voted against a bill aimed at keeping a Pinellas Park woman, Terri Schiavo, on a feeding tube.
"I voted against interference in the Terri Schiavo matter because I felt it was inappropriate for the Legislature to be involved in those very personal matters," Saunders said. "I think this is very similar to that."
Webster was among those who pushed for the Schiavo legislation.
As Webster, an air-conditioning contractor from Winter Garden, argued one final time Wednesday for the bill, he delivered an emotional story about "a boy named Timmy."
Timmy, he said, was born to a woman named Pam who did not get an abortion even though doctors advised her to.
"She carried the baby to term. It was a boy," Webster said. "He grew up and played football. … He won the Heisman trophy, and he was standing up here a few days ago. His name is Tim Tebow. You all know him."
Then 20 senators voted no anyway. Webster sat down, bowed his head and prayed.
Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.