Editorial: New abortion restrictions should not stand

If a bill that would siphon money away from preventive care efforts for women to exercise their constitutional right is signed by Gov. Rick Scott, it should be challenged in court. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
If a bill that would siphon money away from preventive care efforts for women to exercise their constitutional right is signed by Gov. Rick Scott, it should be challenged in court.SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published March 17 2016
Updated March 17 2016

The Florida Legislature has been brazen in its repeated attempts to restrict access to abortion. Thankfully, some of the most blatant restrictions proposed this year never made it to the full House or Senate. But a bill that would siphon money away from preventive care efforts for women who are exercising their constitutional right was approved and sent to Gov. Rick Scott. If the governor follows through with his signal that he will sign the bill into law, it should be challenged in court.

Sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the legislation would require doctors who perform abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals within a "reasonable proximity" to the clinic unless the facility has a transfer agreement with the hospital. The bill also would ban sending state money to clinics that perform abortions even though the money is for other uses. Each year, about $200,000 in Medicaid funds is spent on preventive care programs, including tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings.

Supporters who argue that the bill will improve women's health care offerings are not fooling anyone. State law already bans using public money to pay for abortions. This legislation is a swipe at Planned Parenthood, which provides preventive care in addition to abortions. The organization drew the ire of abortion-rights opponents last summer after its officials were secretly videotaped having distasteful conversations about the collection of fetal tissue used in scientific research. The Legislature continues to wage war against the organization even though a grand jury found Planned Parenthood had not broken the law and instead indicted the undercover activists who videotaped the conversations. Planned Parenthood clinics should not be targeted for closure by budget cuts. That punishes women who depend on the organization for quality, dependable care.

Likewise, the bill's failure to define "reasonable proximity" in specifying where doctors must have hospital admitting privileges creates a nebulous standard that leaves too much room for discretion. But more than that, the policy is unnecessary and could force abortion providers to close and leave women who are seeking abortions on their own.

Florida's latest attempt to restrict access to abortion comes after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month in a Texas case in which attorneys argued that similar laws were unconstitutional. The court has not ruled in that case, but it issued an injunction in a Louisiana case to stop a state law that required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals.

Last year, Scott signed a bill that created a 24-hour waiting period before women could have an abortion. That law is embroiled in legal challenges, as it restricts access to abortions and wrongly asserts that women have not thought deeply about their decisions before showing up for the procedure.

Scott should not make the same mistake twice. Unless he uses his veto pen to stop this abortion legislation, the governor sets the state up for more lawsuits.

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