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Bill Requiring Ultrasound Awaits Next Moves

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Tallahassee, FL – A bill that would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and pay for it is generating tens of thousands of messages to Gov. Charlie Crist. Last week Planned Parenthood held veto rallies in five cities, including Tallahassee. But as Margie Menzel reports, so far the bill's supporters are contacting Crist in greater numbers.

Two days before the end of session, the Florida Senate approved several amendments to HB 1143, an otherwise innocuous health care bill. One requires all women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound unless they can prove they were raped or abused. Others bar the use of taxpayer funds from paying for an abortion and encourage Attorney General Bill McCollum's challenge to the federal law requiring Americans to buy health insurance. The bill passed in the House on the session's last day, and opponents are calling on Crist to veto it.

"This bill was not designed to protect women. It was designed to stop poor women from getting abortions," said state Sen. Dave Aronburg of Greenacres, a Democratic candidate for attorney general.

"It's an assault on the poor. It's an unfunded mandate. So much for less government. So much for smaller government. We've heard that rhetoric so many times in this place. But yet here are politicians inserting themselves, inserting government between women and their doctors."

The Tallahassee event was in the Capitol Courtyard, where other opponents of the bill joined Aronberg in saying it would interfere with private health care decisions and keep private employers from offering abortion coverage. Among them: Dr. Ray Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon.

"As a Republican who is fiscally conservative and against unwarranted intrusion of government into the private lives of individuals, and interference in the doctor-patient relationship, I urge Gov. Crist to veto this ideologically driven, fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation," Bellamy said.

Jane Nesbit, president and CEO of Alta Systems, Inc., said the bill would interfere with the relationship between employer and employee.

"This bill not only mixes policy with personal decisions, but it violates the free-market economy and creates government mandates about the product insurance companies can offer," she said.

Former state representative Loranne Ausley, now the Democratic candidate for Chief Financial Officer, said she's adding her voice to others...

"...who are not only angry with the subject of this bill, but angry with the way that it was shoved through in the dark of night, at the last minute, with no hearing, no option for public testimony," Ausley said. "That is not the way serious decisions should be made in the state of Florida."

But Rep. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and a candidate for state Senate, dismisses the charge of legislative hypocrisy.

"These are issues that have been vetted year in and year out," said Flores, "and last year every member of the Legislature - but for those two or three that came in during the special elections - had the opportunity to debate these issues not only in committee but also on the floor of the House."

And Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, has already called for legislation criminalizing abortion.

"The government got between a mother and her doctor whenever Roe V. Wade was imposed upon Florida," said Van Zant. "And that's where the difficulty began, 38 years ago. Florida's law during those days allowed the unborn to be born."

So far the Governor's Office has heard from just under 13,000 supporters and just under 8,000 opponents. Flores said that even if Crist vetoes the bill, the outpouring of support for it will be there next session as well.

"If the governor does veto it - which I hope that he does not, but if he does, then yeah, I will be back next session advocating for this in order to fulfill the desires of those tens of thousands of Floridians that are calling to express their support of the issue right now."

Although the House and Senate sent Crist more than 70 bills Monday, HB 1143 wasn't among them. When it arrives, Crist will have 15 days to decide.