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Crist Vetoes Controversial Abortion Language in Health Bill

By Lynn Hatter


Tallahassee, FL – Governor Charlie Crist has delivered the latest in a string of controversial vetoes, striking a bill that would have required women to have and pay for ultrasounds before undergoing an abortion. Letters, phone calls and e-mails poured into the Governor's Office from both supporters and opponents. As Lynn Hatter reports, a day before the veto, a group of women walked to the Capitol to hand deliver petitions in support of the legislation.

A group of about 25 women, all of whom have had abortions, walked to the Capitol holding baby shoes with personal names and notes attached. The women came from across the state to share their stories. Dottie Rathel is from Ocala. She had an abortion at age fifteen and says her subsequent pregnancies ended in miscarriages.

"I've seen hundreds of ultrasounds, and I believe that women would make a different decision if they were informed or at least they would go into it better informed."

Rathel eventually had two children by adoption. But April Hymen, who directs the Pregnancy Center of Pinellas County, says it took years for her to heal. During the walk, she held two sets of baby shoes representing her two abortions: Precious and Michael Joseph.

"I'm doing this for them and also for, this was over thirty years ago, so my children would be old enough to be married and to have their own children, so more than just these two are lost to me. I've lost grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and so many branches of my family tree are gone now because of these uninformed decisions that I made."

The women are part of an anti-abortion group called Operation Outcry. Together, they presented 350 petitions in support of the bill that would have required women to have and pay for ultrasounds before making a decision about an abortion, something that is already done in about 80-percent of such procedures. In the wake of the veto, Operation Outcry Director Rebecca Potter wants to know why.

"We are deeply disappointed in the governor's actions. It's almost like one more hurt, one more hurt to us."

Progress Florida, a left-leaning policy group, is celebrating the governor's decision. Director Damien Filer says the bill was a violation of women's privacy rights, putting politicians between doctors and their patients.

"I think it's a great thing for Florida that the uprising of people that made their voices clear about the importance of this politically motivated legislation being vetoed came through today and that we got the right results."

In the run up to his decision, the governor pulled the pro-life language from his Senate campaign website in what some observers say was an attempt to appeal to Democrats and independents. Earlier in the week, he continued to say he had concerns about the bill language.

"The notion that there would be a forced ultrasound, if you will, that would have to be paid for by the woman involved, you know, those are things that seem to be to be pretty difficult with what would already be a difficult situation."

Representative Matt Hudson of Naples sponsored the bill, which, in addition to the abortion language, included a regulatory overhaul for the Agency for Healthcare Administration.

"In terms of whether or not it was politically motivated, well I would say that certainly the governor has had opportunities to define himself as being pro-life and has done so in the past. He's also said he's pro-choice in the past. Well, this time, he's clearly, clearly definitive, and he's decided that he's going to be pro-choice."

Hudson says the veto is unfortunate, but that doesn't spell the end of the abortion fight. Progress Florida's Damien Filer agrees.

"This Legislature over recent years has trended more and more to the political and further and further away from good public policy. So, much as I wish that we could consider this dead and gone forever, I think that would be wildly unrealistic."

The issue isn't dead to Operation Outcry's Rebecca Potter. She says Crist has lost her vote after vetoing the bill.

"He's changed his position on so many things, and now it's going to be a whole lot easier for people to say this is just one more thing that he's flip flopping on, just basically looking for votes. Either position he would have taken would have disappointed people. But I think the people that he's disappointed by vetoing this bill are going to really raise up against him."

For now, the abortion issue has been derailed, but supporters say they'll continue to try again next year Opponents say they'll continue to fight against it.