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Emotional Debate in House over Ultrasounds for Abortions

By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-899449.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Calls for a veto were being made even before the House took a final vote Friday on a healthcare bill. It was amended by the Senate on Thursday to include language requiring a woman who wants an abortion to pay for an ultrasound. Gina Jordan tells us the measure brought emotional questions and debate on the House floor.

Four amendments were tacked on to what started as a seemingly unobjectionable healthcare bill. The most controversial ones require an ultrasound before an abortion and allow the state to opt out of healthcare coverage for abortions. The first amendment brought more than an hour's worth of questions, mostly from Democrats.

"Isn't this simply a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion?"
"Would this mandate or this requirement for an ultrasound be an encroachment on the lives of citizens?"
"Is this bill taking away my choice and my right?"

A tag team of Republicans offered answers, and then Representative Mary Brandenburg, Democrat of Lake Worth, opened debate on the amendment.

"You can only vote for this amendment if you believe that every woman in Florida needs this male-dominated Legislature to tell her what to do and how to do it."

Representative Janet Long, Democrat of St. Petersburg, said it was clear to her that a lot of members in the chamber have never had a civics lesson. She cited the Florida and U.S. Constitutions, which say individuals have to right to be left alone.

"Until you start growing ovaries or have them, you don't need to be involved in making a decision about what women do with their bodies. This is a governmental intrusion into the most private, personal decision a woman will have to make between herself, her physician and her God. So stand down if you don't have ovaries. Thank you."

Male and female Republicans had their say in favor. Representative Mike Horner of Kissimmee said people on both sides of the issue can agree that abortion should be safe and it shouldn't happen often.

"Having this ultrasound makes this procedure more safe which is a prime tenet of the pro-choice position. Number two, it should be more rare, and I believe that giving women an opportunity to have more information to make an informed decision, perhaps they will make a different choice, preserve that life, and abortion will then be more rare, accomplishing both of those stated principles."

Representative Alan Hays of Umatilla asked the members what price they would put on a baby.

"We hear the terms pro-life and pro-choice usually as opposite positions on the question of whether or not to approve abortions. I don't see these terms as opposites. Pro-choice is the politically correct warm fuzzy term that condones killing unborn babies. If you want an expression that it is the opposite of pro-life, let me suggest the honest term - pro-death."

Hays drew a strong reaction when he said the holocaust killed up to 10 million people, while 50-million babies have been killed since abortion became legal in the early 70's. Representative Richard Steinberg later called on Hays to issue an immediate and formal apology.

Kelli Stargel, Republican of Lakeland, reminded members about her own unplanned pregnancy at age seventeen. Her daughter is now an Army intelligence officer serving overseas.

"All we're asking in this bill is that women have the facts, that they have an ultrasound that shows them what the facts are, that this is a baby, that it has a heartbeat, that it's not a tadpole, that it has arms and legs and a face. It's the facts. Let's the facts speak. Why are people scared of that? If the woman has those facts and then chooses to have that abortion, that's her choice."

All of the amendments were adopted. As the chamber debated the amended bill, the most moving personal story was shared by Representative Scott Randolph, Democrat of Orlando. He talked about excitedly watching his wife's first ultrasound last January, only to be told something was wrong. More opinions and ultrasounds led to the news that their baby was not going to make it, and they had to choose whether to end the pregnancy or wait for a miscarriage.

"That ultrasound machine is right next to that bed where my wife is laying looking at this fetus. And she's having to cry and demand and ask for that ultrasound machine to be turned the other direction because she can't see it anymore. And this bill right here would say no, we're going to demand that one more time when you go in to finally terminate the pregnancy because God and fate and nature have you not this, you're not going to have the child this time. We demand that you see that ultrasound or that you be told what's on that screen."

Representative Matt Hudson, Republican of Naples, ended the debate by telling members this would be one of the most important votes of their legislative careers.

"We decide public policy everyday in this chamber that affects the lives of 19-million Floridians. Every decision we make has consequences. Members, I tell you this, the consequences of this are excellent."

The final vote was 76 - 44 in favor. Within minutes, lawmakers and organizations were calling on Governor Crist to veto the measure.