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Gov. Scott signs first abortion-related bill in two years

Gov. Rick Scott today signed the only abortion-related bill that passed this session, requiring that doctors must offer emergency medical care if a baby is born alive during a failed abortion or face criminal charges.

Scott was joined by his wife Ann and pro-life supporters from around the state as he signed HB 1129 Wednesday afternoon at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home’s Pensacola campus in Cantonment, a nonprofit organization that supports pregnancy resource centers and children who are neglected, abused or abandoned.

Scott applauded the commitment of sponsors Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Pigman, a freshman legislator and emergency room physician, took part in the event via Skype -- he’s a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who is currently serving in Kuwait.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, calls for care “appropriate for the gestational age of the infant.” It states that an infant born alive “during or immediately after attempted abortion is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as any other child born alive in course of natural birth” and ensures an infant is “transported to a hospital.”

A violation of the law is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Health care practitioners, as well as employees of hospitals, physicians’ offices and abortion clinics, must report all known violations to the Department of Health.

Florida is the 29th state to enact similar legislation, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute,  a research and advocacy group that supports women’s access to abortions and collects abortion data. More than 450 bills restricting access to abortion and family planning were introduced in 46 states so far this year, said Elizabeth Nash, the institute’s state issues manager.

“It isn’t about protecting women’s health or making abortion safe,” she said. “It’s about adopting so many restrictions that providers won’t provide or women can’t access abortion services.”

The bill passed without opposition from Planned Parenthood. The law won’t have any impact on the group's clinics, said Lillian Tamayo, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast. A live birth during or after an abortion is  “one of the most extremely unlikely scenarios,”  she said, and if it did occur, she said, their health practitioners are “guided by very stringent medical guidelines ...We would provide appropriate care to both the mother and the infant.”  

The new law addresses cases when a failed abortion could result in a live birth in either a late-term abortion (which can be performed only if two physicians say the mother's life is in danger), or if a mother was further along in her pregnancy than estimated.

The issue drew heightened attention in light of the case of Philadelphia Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of killing three babies that prosecutors said were born alive during illegal late-term abortions.

No third-trimester abortions were recorded in Florida in 2012 (state law defines the third trimester as after 24 weeks of pregnancy). More than 90 percent of the recorded 9,228 abortions performed statewide so far this year took place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the state. The bill also requires that healthcare providers must report any instances of live births during or after an abortion.