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Rare, unanimous support for abortion bill in Florida House

The Old Capitol building in Tallahassee.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

The Old Capitol building in Tallahassee.

TALLAHASSEE — Temporarily setting aside debate over the legality of abortion, the Florida House unanimously passed a measure Wednesday that would require doctors to provide emergency care if a failed abortion somehow produces an infant who is born alive.

HB 1129, sponsored by Avon Park Republican Rep. Cary Pigman, passed 119-0. Along with requiring that doctors provide care, the bill requires that cases of live births after an abortion attempt be reported.

Twenty-eight states already have similar laws, which mirror a federal provision signed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

Pigman, a soft-spoken freshman legislator and emergency room physician, told legislators his proposal would guarantee "respect and humanity to infants born alive, regardless of how they entered the world."

After the vote, Gov. Rick Scott said he looks "forward to signing the bill when it reaches my desk." The bill must still pass the full Senate.

A failed abortion could result in a live birth in a late-term abortion, which can only be performed if two physicians agree the mother's life is at risk, or if the mother was further into her pregnancy than thought.

Abortion politics dominated the House much of Wednesday. The debate, while always contentious, has been heightened this year by the gruesome Pennsylvania criminal case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell has been charged with causing the deaths of a patient and seven babies who prosecutors say were born alive.

A bill considered by lawmakers Wednesday would make the death of an "unborn child" a separate crime from an offense committed against the mother (SB 876). The bill would not target abortions specifically, but crimes against a pregnant mother.

Bill sponsor Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, said 36 other states have such measures. President Bush signed federal legislation in 2004 making it a separate crime to harm a fetus during the commission of a violent crime against a pregnant woman.

A person would not have to know a woman is pregnant to be charged with a crime. Democrat lawmakers pressed Ahern with hypothetical cases where a fetus might be injured — in a crowd, in a soccer game, in a fender-bender. Ahern said it would be up to law enforcement officers to determine if charges should be filed.

A final vote was not taken on the bill, but one could come this week.

Another proposal considered but not voted on Wednesday would require that doctors sign an affidavit stating an abortion is not motivated by sex or race (HB 845).

Sponsor Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said the "sex-selection industry" is prolific. The bill states that anyone performing, inducing, or actively participating in an abortion because of the child's sex or race would be charged with a third-degree felony.

"If a friend is driving a woman to the doctor's office, is the friend considered an active participant?" asked Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando. The answer would be "yes," Van Zant said, if the procedure is to be done due to sex or race.

It's unclear if the bills sponsored by Ahern and Van Zant will be heard in the Senate.

In November, a proposed constitutional amendment banning public funding of abortions in Florida was rejected 55-45 percent.

Rare, unanimous support for abortion bill in Florida House 04/17/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2013 8:33am]

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