The Florida Legislature is playing politics with women's bodies. A measure that requires doctors to perform an ultrasound on all women seeking an abortion is not about women's health or informed consent, as supporters claim. It is designed solely to make it more expensive and difficult for women to obtain an abortion.
In a year when lawmakers have serious budgetary issues to resolve, they have chosen to spend time on an antiabortion measure that is sure to face court challenge, costing the state unnecessary legal fees. For women considering an abortion, this measure is punitive, and for the state, it is a costly diversion. Only those lawmakers who promote an extremist antiabortion agenda are cheering. Too bad there are so many of them in Florida.
After hours of emotional debate, the House passed the ultrasound bill (HB 257) by a 70-45 margin, largely along party lines. It was sponsored by Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa. Five courageous Republicans — four from the Tampa Bay area — stood against it, as did all but one Democrat. Still, there is hope that sensible minds will prevail and the Senate companion, SB 2400, will not advance. Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Park, the bill's champion in the Senate, predicts otherwise, saying that he believes the bill will pass. If so, it will be up to Gov. Charlie Crist to stop this legislative assault on a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion.
In the past, Crist has demonstrated commendable political leadership by refusing to get drawn into culture war issues. In his decision not to support the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that will appear on the November ballot, Crist has said he has a "live and let live" attitude about the role of government. That same attitude is needed here as well.
Whether to have an ultrasound is a decision that a woman and her doctor should make without government meddling. By requiring one in every case, the bill will add to the cost of an abortion, making it even harder for poor women to afford the procedure. The statute would require the procedure even if the woman signs a declaration that she doesn't want to view it. There are exceptions for victims of rape, incest, domestic violence and human trafficking.
Let's be clear — this legislation is only about making abortion more burdensome and expensive for women. It serves no other purpose. A hearing on Webster's bill is scheduled Tuesday in committee. This attack on abortion rights needs to end then and there.