Senate rejects abortion debate

Mar 6, 2012

A recent procedural move by the Senate has both sides of an anti-abortion bill wondering if the debate on the issue is truly over. As Sascha Cordner reports, while some say the bill is dead, others say it’s not over until the last day of session.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos says it's unlikely that legislation aimed at making it harder for women to get abortions is going anywhere this year.

“Given the mood of the Senate chamber, they felt like with all of the pressing issues that that this might take a little too much time. There are some folks in the pro-choice caucus, within my Republican caucus who did not want to vote on this given the vote total.  I’d let those folks who are not in support of this bill know let’s at least give people a chance to kind of express where they’re are at, and I think this vote expressed where people are at.” 

Haridopolos' made those comments Monday, after a wide-ranging anti-abortion bill failed to get the two-thirds majority vote required to pull the bill out of its second committee and allow it to go straight to the Senate floor:

Haridopolos: If you vote yes, you favor withdrawal from the committee. If you vote no, you’re in favor of keeping it in the committee, and So, secretary unlock the board and Senators will now vote. Secretary, lock the machine and announce the vote [Secretary: 23 yays 16 nays] and the bill is not withdrawn from Criminal Justice. Alright.”

Senate Bill 290 includes a requirement of a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to get ethics training, and new abortion clinics can only be owned by doctors who received training during their residencies on abortion-related procedures.

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich says she believes the measure is a terrible bill that restricts a women’s right to choose, and she hopes Monday’s vote kills the issue for this year.

“I felt that this is something that we should not be involved with at this point. So, I talked to the Senate President about it, and he said we would just the vote to see if the bill could be withdrawn, and if I was able to get the votes not to withdraw it, then that would be the end of it. And, thankfully, we were able to get the votes not to withdraw the bill from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and hopefully, we are now finished with that this year.”

Monday’s vote also was a bi-partisan one. Democratic Senator Gary Siplin joined most Republicans to allow the bill to move straight to the Senate Floor, while several Republicans joined most Democrats in blocking the bill from leaving its committee, including Senator Evelyn Lynn.

“The public throughout the state of Florida has been screaming for more jobs, a stable economy, lower taxes, and yet we seem to be finding a number of bills, on which we spend hours debating that have nothing to do with those issues. I think it’s time that we listen to the people and stop spending time on bills that are not important to the people, just to certain groups, and that we start working on what’s essential, like getting people back to work.”

But, to bill supporter Shelia Hopkins with Florida Catholic conference, it is an important discussion to have on the Floor.

“Yeah, they’re passing all kinds of bills about insurance and environmental regulations, which we’re for that, we’re for safe environment and clean water, but what can we be more important than the health and safety of women?”

Hopkins is convinced the bill is dead, but opponent of the omnibus abortion measure, Emily Caponetti with Planned Parenthood, is not so sure:

“I don’t think it’s over until it’s over until we Sine Die, but I can assure you Planned Parenthood supporters across the state are committed to making sure that women have access to safe high-quality affordable health care and we will remain very vigilant.”

She says she applauds the decision of lawmakers from both parties not to take up the anti-abortion bill on the floor and focus on matters, like balancing the budget. But, Republican Senator Paula Dockery says she believes there’s another reason behind the bi-partisan vote:

“We voted on a procedural move to not allow it to be withdrawn from committee, and I think there are a lot of members who are starting to be offended by things being withdrawn from committee and coming to the floor because it’s breaking the procedures that we all have been abiding by, so I think you’re going to see more of those procedural moves.”

Procedural moves, like what recently happened to the so-called ‘parent trigger’ bill. In that case, the Senate did not have enough votes to allow the measure to bypass its last committee. So, Senate Leadership called a special committee meeting over the weekend to pass the measure along, so it could be taken up on the Senate Floor.

The same thing could happen to the abortion bill with a few days left of Session, but unlike the “Parent trigger” legislation, this bill has two more committee stops.

Still, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Anitere Flores doubts the bill will come up again this session after Monday’s vote, but she says the bill will still live on to fight another day sometime next year.

“Well, I’m a little disappointed to have the debate on the issue. I expected the bill to be withdrawn from the Criminal Justice Committee, and then perhaps, go onto the Budget committee for a full hearing, and unfortunately that wasn’t able to happen, and so we’ll have to try again next year.”

The House recently passed its House companion, House Bill 277, largely along party lines. Had the bill come up on the Senate floor, and passed without any changes, it would have headed straight to Governor Rick Scott to sign.