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Abortions bills head to house floor

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-964391.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Governor Rick Scott's pro-life stance has led to a number of abortion bills in the legislature this session in an effort to get them turned into law. As Sascha Cordner reports, three of those measures cleared a House panel today, but not without much debate on whether lawmakers are placing too many restrictions on a woman's right to choose.

Former Governor Charlie Crist surprised many Republican lawmakers last year when he vetoed an abortion bill that leaves an ultrasound. Now, that same measure and two others made it through their last committee stop, as it passed in the House Health and Human Services Committee. The bill requires requires women to have an ultrasound in the first trimester of their pregnancy if they were seeking an abortion.

"If you had a brain tumor, the doctor would perform an MRI, he would show you the results he would explain it to you. This is the same thing. This is currently the only kind of medical procedure where you can just walk into a clinic and with little to know counseling at all request a surgical procedure, walk to the back of the clinic, and have it done without having seen or discussed any of the medical tests that have been performed on you."

Republican Representative Elizabeth Porter of Lake City is sponsoring the measure formally called House Bill 11-27. She says this is just an expansion of current law, which requires a sonogram in the second and third trimesters. But, Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates Executive Director Stephanie Kunkel says:

"Let's be very clear about what this bill is, and is not. This bill isn't about protecting women or providing women with informed consent. This is about the legislature's attempt to interfere in the personal and private medical decisions of women and to play politics with a woman's health. If legislators were serious about reducing the need for abortion, they would work with organizations like Planned Parenthood to provide affordable and accessible birth control and to teach comprehensive sex education."

But, Maureen Ahern, the wife of Republican Representative Larry Ahern of Saint Petersburg spoke in favor of the proposal.

"What this bill does is give a woman as much information as possible about the choice she is about to make and doesn't she deserve that choice? The opposition to this bill also may say that asking a woman if she wants to view the sonogram is unfair to the women, that it may make her feel uncomfortable, and members, having an abortion may be the most difficult decision a woman makes in her life and it should be uncomfortable and it should be a gut-wrenching decision."

Representative Porter says she has worked with many committees to get to where this bill is at this time and hopes the bill passes as it heads to the floor. Republican Representative Rachel Burgin of Riverview, also co-sponsored that bill and is the sponsor of House Bill House Bill 13-97, The last abortion measure on the panel's agenda. It modifies a few of the regulations governing the activities of abortion clinics.

"Really, it provides that abortions happening in Florida which is 94,000 every year, or at least the past year it was 94-thousand, that they are done in the safest way possible, and that when a girl goes in or a women goes in and decides to have an abortion that it's done by someone who is licensed and someone that knows the procedure that they're getting ready to perform."

But, Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood says she is very much opposed to the direction the bill is taking and refers to a part in Burgin's bill addressing how, after October first, doctors would be the only ones allowed to run and own any new abortion clinic. Right now, there is only one doctor-owned abortion clinic in Florida.

"I feel that this bill especially representative's Burgin's bill takes away that choice by taking away that possibility of having an abortion by taking away the clinics and closing them and making the severe punishments for physicians who haven't had certain classes be required to own clinics so that there's only one clinic in the whole state."

Some of the punishments Schwartz refers to includes a person who willfully violates a certain area of the bill will be committing a misdemeanor in the second degree and the penalty for improper disposal of fetal remains is a first degree misdemeanor. The last abortion-related bill is House Bill 97, sponsored by Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Shalimar.

"Pursuant to the National healthcare affordable care act, the default position is that elective abortions will be covered through state exchanges using public dollars and each state has the opportunity to pass an opt out to ensure that that state does not use public dollars for elective abortions."

Gaetz says the purpose of his bill is to stop the use of public dollars for elective abortions, with some exceptions, like rape and incest. But, Representative Schwartz says there are other areas to consider.

"Does anyone know how many women will lose health insurance that they currently have? Has anyone looked into that? Will they have to lose that? What about a woman who's experienced catastrophic pregnancy as described where there is a severe fetal anomaly? Will there be no insurance for her, for the 220-thousand dollars her family has to pay."

In response, Representative Gaetz says the bill does allow for some exceptions.

"Line 16 through 19 of the bill indicates when there is catastrophic risk, we put the power in the hands of the doctor to determine whether or not that risk endangers the life of the mother."

Gaetz says there are parts of the bill he still has to tweak, like making sure women do not make false claims of rape or incest just to get an abortion.

All three abortion measures now head to the House floor, after they passed along a party line vote with Democrats in opposition.