While the stalemate over Medicaid expansion hogged the spotlight, the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly voted along party lines to further restrict abortion rights. The bill sent to Gov. Rick Scott would require women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion unless they can prove they were victims of crimes such as rape or domestic violence. While supporters claim the waiting period aims to protect women from making hasty decisions, it interferes with an intensely personal decision and chips away at their constitutional rights. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill into law, but he would veto it if he followed his broader concerns about overregulation and government intrusion into private lives.
The legislation (HB 633) would require women seeking an abortion to make at least two trips to the doctor. Physicians would have to obtain informed consent from women in face-to-face meetings at least 24 hours before performing the procedure. The House added a last-minute amendment to the bill that exempts women who can provide a copy of a restraining order, or documentation proving that they are victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking. These exceptions helped gain more support for the bill, but it revictimizes women by demanding that they prove they have been violated and justify a choice that should require no explanation.
Florida law already requires doctors to obtain consent from women before performing an abortion. Doctors must explain the procedure, its associated risks and advise women of the age of the fetus. But waiting periods are common in other states. Twenty-five states, including Alabama, Pennsylvania and Utah, have waiting periods of 24 hours or more, according to state records. But only 11 of those states have waiting periods that require two visits to the clinic like the Florida legislation would require, which is entirely unnecessary.
The U.S. Supreme Court had it right in 1973 when it determined in Roe vs. Wade that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to have an abortion, and Florida has additional protection through the right to privacy in the state Constitution. But attempts to curtail abortions have escalated in recent years, with states enacting a variety of measures ranging from requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges to allowing unborn fetuses to have legal representation in court.
As Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa argued during the Senate's debate on the bill, introducing a waiting period in Florida would create an unnecessary obstacle for women seeking abortions. The policy is little more than a timeout for abortion rights opponents to keep pressing their case, and it would force women to twice pass through protesters at abortion clinics. The bill also assumes that women have not already given serious thought to their most personal of decisions before showing up for an appointment. And it would make it more difficult for women who may have transportation or job issues.
Legislators have failed women by attempting to make it harder for them to make what is already a very difficult decision. Scott should not allow Florida to roll back the clock on women's rights. Women, not lawmakers, should remain the ultimate arbiters of what happens to their bodies.