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House panel passes three antiabortion measures

A House panel advanced a trio of antiabortion bills -- including one that would prevent a woman from terminating her pregnancy based on race or gender preferences -- past their first obstacles to becoming law by party-line votes on Tuesday.

The discussion in the House and Human Services Accesss Subcommittee was the first major talk of abortion this legislative session and attracted a flood of supporters and opponents, including 40 people from a Brandon church and about a dozen pink-shirted abortion-rights advocates.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said his proposal, HB 1327, would require physicians to sign affidavits that the abortion performed was not based on gender or racial discrimation. Doctors would be fined up to $10,000 for failing to report abortions based on these factors.

"This bill is really less about abortion; it's about discrimination and being consistent in how we oppose discrimination in this state," Plakon said.

Democrats were expectedly skeptical.

"This is perhaps one of the most disingenuous pieces of legislation that I've ever seen," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, called the proposal a "clever smokescreen." He wanted to know how many race- and sex-selected abortions occur in Florida each years, numbers Plakon did not have. He said the practice is widely accepted in Chinese, Indian and Korean cultures.

"Now this isn't the type of situation where somebody goes and checks in with a statistician," Plakon said, "but I think to deny that this is occuring in our state would be naive."

A second measure heard Tuesday, HB 839, by Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, prohibits abortions after a fetus reaches 20 weeks, with exceptions for medical need or to save the life of the fetus, among other reporting requirements for physicians who perform abortions.

"I think this bill seeks to protect arguably the frailest members of our society from feeling pain, and that's the intent," he said.

After several opponents invoked Roe v. Wade and blasted further state regulation on abortion, Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, said the case did not give women unconstitional rights.

"Roe v. Wade was the most profound intrusion of government into the civil liberty of unborn Americans in this century," he said.

The final and most expansive measure, HB 277, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, attracted the most personal testimony and debate. Her bill would extend the state's ban on abortions after the third trimester to, in the physician's best subject, when the fetus attains viability. It requires abortions performed after viability to be performed in a hospital. The proposal would require women to give their informed consent at least 24 hours before a procedure, which could require them to make two visits to a clinic before receiving the procedure.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, had several problems with the legislation, including mandatory annual ethics training for physicians who perform abortions, requiring owners of abortion clinics to be physicians, and the informed consent change.

"This is just an effort to make it harder for women to obtain an abortion," she said.

Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, countered, saying, "I don't think that killing these children should be convenient."

Planned Parenthood lobbyist Emily Caponetti criticized the proposals for not doing anything to reduce unplanned pregnancies.

After an hour and a half of debate, Baxley told the crowd it wasn't easy for members to debate the abortion issue.

"I think we came here to do hard things," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and committee chairman.

According to state numbers, there were 214,519 live births in Florida. There were 79,908 abortions performed in Florida. There are 68 licensed abortion clinics in Florida.

The Legislature passed five abortion-related restrictions on abortion in 2011, including a controversial requirement that women be asked if they wish to see an ultrasound of their child before an abortion.