1. Health

Conservative Florida lawmakers consider abortion waiting period, other restrictions

Published Jan. 28, 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Conservative Florida lawmakers who last year passed a landmark bill that requires women seeking an abortion to first have an ultrasound performed are pushing to go further in 2012.

Among the ideas advancing: an outright ban on some second-trimester abortions in the state, a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and a measure that forces doctors to sign affidavits saying an abortion is not being sought because of the race or the gender of the fetus.

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

A bill sponsored by Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, includes a requirement that abortion clinics licensed after July 1 be owned and operated by a physician or physicians trained in the procedure during their residency.

Current clinics would be exempt, but Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit governed by a board of directors, and similar groups not owned by doctors would not be able to move locations or open new centers.

"There's absolutely no medical reason that a health center needs to be owned by a physician or a group," said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Takeata King Pang.

"Other doctors are not in the business of killing human life," countered Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, who was recognized by the Christian Coalition of Florida in 2009 with its Faith and Family Award.

Burgin's bill, HB 277, would require a woman to complete a consent form at least 24 hours before the procedure, which would serve as a waiting period and trigger an additional visit to a hospital or a clinic.

And the bill would require physicians who perform abortions to complete a three-hour ethics course each year.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. Current law outlaws abortions after 24 weeks.

The measure, HB 839, passed through a House committee along party lines this week. Davis said it would protect "arguably the frailest members of our society from feeling pain." He cited research that says a fetus reacts to certain stimuli with a recoil response between 20 and 24 weeks. "We are a civil society, and we need to act like one," he said.

Democrats opposing the bill cited studies concluding that a fetus is not capable of feeling pain until closer to 29 weeks.

A third proposal attempts to prevent race- or gender-selective abortions, an issue that has generated controversy in countries such as China and India, where researchers have noted preferences for sons over daughters, according to a staff analysis.

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, named HB 1327 the "Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity for Life Act."

It forces doctors to sign statements saying an abortion is not being sought for reasons of race or gender. They could be fined up to $10,000 for failing to report such cases.

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"The only way to make sure that this barbaric practice doesn't continue is to do the best we can to pass a law like this to catch at least some of the instances where this may be happening," Plakon said.

Democrats and abortion rights groups say there is no evidence that abortions for race or gender reasons are prevalent in the country, let alone Florida.

"I appreciate bills that are just straight-up trying to stand in the way of a woman's ability to seek health care or get an abortion. I actually appreciate those," said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "This is perhaps one of the most disingenuous pieces of legislation I've ever seen."

There is precedent. Oklahoma, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Arizona prohibit sex-selective abortions, and Arizona also prohibits abortions based on race.

A committee hearing this week attracted a couple of dozen Florida A&M and Florida State University students testifying on the side of Planned Parenthood and, on the other side, a group of about 40 people from the River at Tampa Bay Church. Women described carrying their pregnancies to term despite their young ages and warnings from doctors.

"I think we came here to do hard things," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, midway through the emotional debate.

Legislators in 2011 spent several days in bitter debate over a slew of abortion bills, four of which were signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. Besides the ultrasound requirement, legislators toughened a parental notification law for minors, prohibited insurance policies created through the federal health care law from covering abortions and redirected proceeds from "Choose Life" license plates from counties to Choose Life Inc., which counsels pregnant women.

It's unclear whether the policies, in effect since July 1, have influenced the number of abortions performed in the state. In 2010, 79,908 abortions were reported to the state, with nearly 74,000 occurring during the first 12 weeks.

For 2011, the number appears to be down slightly to 76,766, with about 70,700 performed during the first 12 weeks, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. Four clinics have not yet reported their data.


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