Women who are injured or experience "emotional distress" after having an abortion could sue their doctors for up to 10 years after the procedure under legislation passed Thursday by a Florida House subcommittee.
"This bill provides a remedy for women who are physically or emotionatlly damaged from abortions by creting a specific cause of action against negligent physicians," said the legislaton's sponsor, Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. "A doctor would be held responsible if that doctor failed to give the informed consent appropriately."
Members of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommitee passed the bill (HB 19) on a 10-6 vote, including Majority Whip Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, who was added to the panel under a rule that lets Speaker Richard Corcoran shore up votes by appointing members of his leadership team to any committee.
The bill has drawn criticism from all sides.
Abortion-rights activists say providers would be singled out and forced to obtain additional medical malpractice insurance coverage that could make the procedure more expensive. As well, advocates worry doctors could be targeted years down the road in expensive court cases by a small number of women who regret having an abortion.
"I made a difficult choice and I had an abortion and despite growing up in a time and a place surrounded by people who think abortion is the ultimate sin, and I don't regret it," said Erin Foster, a Planned Parenthood volunteer from Tampa. "I would mostly regret if my representatives failed to trust more than half of their constitueency -- which is women -- to make these decisions for themselves."
Those in the insurance industry are concerned, too.
It's a "shocking" piece of legislation, Mark Delegal told lawmakers. He's a lobbyist for The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business. He urged lawmakers not to create new laws similar to medical malpractice because doing so could cause problems with the existing system.
State Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa, the lone Republican to vote against the bill, echoed those concerns, and several other G.O.P. lawmakers, including subcommittee vice chair Jay Fant of Jacksonville, said they wanted to see Grall make some changes in upcoming committees.
Grall countered criticism, saying that medical malpractice cases have a two-year statute of limitations, and that a stigma associated with abortion means women are less likely to speak up in that shorter period of time, even if they have been injured or experienced emotional trauma as a result of a doctor's negligence.
HB 19 must clear two more committee hearings before being considered by the full House, and it does not yet have a Senate sponsor, though Grall said expects a bill to be filed in the upper chamber soon.
Photo: Anti-abortion advocates take part in a 40 Days for Life event at Tampa Women's Heath Center in 2013. (Skip O'Rourke, Tampa Bay Times)