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Pre-abortion ultrasound bill fails in tie

A proposed law requiring all Florida women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound -- then have a chance to view the image and have it explained to her -– failed in a tie vote Wednesday, after almost 90 minutes of impassioned debate about privacy, pregnancy and women’s rights that crossed party lines.

Key to the defeat were most of the Republican senators known as the "Schiavo Nine" for their role in joining Democrats in 2005 to block a measure to insert the Legislature into the Terri Schiavo euthanasia case. Only one of them, J.D. Alexander, of Lake Wales, voted for the measure. Another is no longer in the Senate.

Those lawmakers again chastised supporters for interfering with private choices, saying the decision to perform an ultrasound should be left to doctors and the decision to have an abortion should be left to the woman.

”My feeling is unless you ovulate or have ovulated, you have no business regulating female decisions on reproduction,” said Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican. “That decision should be honored. She should not have to go through more hoops imposed by government to give her a constitutionally granted right.

“I would hope that when a woman presents herself at that facility, she has already made up her mind…And I think if you change her mind, I’m not so sure you’d be doing the right thing for her or for the child that she would bear.”

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, requires doctors to perform an ultrasound whenever a woman comes in for an abortion. The doctor then is required to show the scan to the woman and explain it to her, unless she signs a form saying she does not want to see it

A woman would be automatically exempt from having to see the scan if she can prove she is a victim of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking. A woman would also be exempt from viewing it if delaying the abortion would cause bodily harm.

But no woman would be exempt for having the ultrasound performed.

House lawmakers approved a similar bill in a largely party line earlier this year. And Senators have spent the past few weeks counting (and recounting) every vote. Supporters have said the scans are necessary so doctors know how old the fetus is and so women can make an informed medical decision. Webster also said most Florida abortion clinics already require ultrasounds as part of their clinic procedures.

“If good medical practice dictates screening, what does no screening mean?” Webster asked. “Fill in the blank. It’s bad medical practice.”

But opponents have said the ultrasound provision is a veiled strategy meant to create another hurdle for abortions

Critics also said the bill would make the procedure more expensive by requiring women to pay for the scans, which can cost several hundred dollars, and that could leave poor women unable to afford the abortion.

“This bill places a financial burden on them and it places an undo burden on them,” said Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat. “This is an anguishing, heart-wrenching decision for women. And I would suggest that they do not take it lightly. And I would suggest that they do not need the state to tell them what information they need.”

But supporters admonished opponents for arguing it would be bad for a woman to decide against having the abortion after seeing the ultrasound.

“God forbid a woman might change her mind,” said Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican. “God forbid.”

Current Florida law requires ultrasounds for abortions during the second and third trimesters. The proposed law would extend that requirement to the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when most abortions are performed.

In 2006, roughly 96,000 abortions were done in Florida. About 90 percent of those abortions were performed during the first trimester. If approved, Florida would join 12 other states that require ultrasounds for abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The Florida House approved a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, in a largely party-line vote earlier this session.