24-hour wait for abortion wins final approval in Florida Legislature

Published Apr. 25, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would impose a 24-hour waiting period on women seeking an abortion is headed to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The proposal, which would also require women to make at least two trips to the doctor to have the procedure, won final approval in the Senate on Friday after the most emotional debate of the legislative session.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, revealed that his wife, Victoria, was seriously ill during one of her pregnancies and was advised to have an abortion.

She considered it, but ultimately decided to give birth to their daughter, Erin.

"I'm glad she had 24 hours to think about it," Gaetz said.

Senate Democratic leader Arthenia Joyner, however, painted the proposal as yet another effort by Florida Republicans to impede Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

"Only a woman gets pregnant," she said. "Only a woman carries a child. And only a woman should have the right to decide if that is what she wants to do without having the additional hurdle of having to wait 24 hours and come back."

It was not clear Friday if Scott would sign the bill (HB 633). His office declined to comment.

Just two days earlier, the Florida House gave its approval with a 77-41 vote. All but a handful of Democrats and Republicans voted with their political parties.

The Senate vote fell strictly along party lines — and came amid some recent criticism that the Senate has been too liberal.

The Senate has historically been more moderate than the House. But Senate Republicans have taken heat this year for slowing two high-profile gun bills and supporting a plan to accept federal Medicaid expansion money.

Many GOP lawmakers delivered emotional speeches on the abortion bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, noted that 72,000 abortions were performed in Florida last year.

"In a 10-year period, that's 720,000 people who didn't get to achieve their dream, to fulfill their purpose, to do what they were meant to do," she said. "Would it have been to cure cancer? Would it have been to go to Mars? Would it have been to be one of us standing here?"

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said, "This bill isn't against women."

"What this bill is is for life," he said. "And if it takes 24 extra hours to do this procedure, perhaps it will save one woman the emotional agony of a lifetime of regret."

The debate from Democrats was just as impassioned.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, took issue with a provision that would exempt women who could prove they had been raped.

"We're going to ask a woman who has been through an awful experience to walk through a door and not only admit that she's been through that awful experience, but we're going to tell her to prove it," he said. "I hope nobody in here thinks that's right."

Clemens called reducing the number of abortions in Florida "a laudable goal."

"But there are many better ways to do that," he said.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at Follow @kmcgrory.