Abortion continues to be a hot issue in the Florida Legislature as a long list of proposals on Tuesday cleared its second House hearing.
Supporters are billing HB 1411 as “an effort to protect the health and welfare of Floridians,” said Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, the sponsor.
But it’s viewed by opponents as an all-out attack on abortion rights in Florida and clinics like Planned Parenthood.
The bill would institute new regulations over abortion providers and state licensing. Among them:
* Requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges or a transfer agreement at a hospital within a “reasonable distance,” or about 30 minutes.
* Blocking state funding for any services to clinics that provide abortions, except cases of rape, incest or when the health of the woman is in jeopardy.
* Defining when each trimester of a pregnancy begins and ends, part of a licensing dispute between the Agency for Health Care Administration and Planned Parenthood this summer, in which the agency claimed said trimesters ended two weeks earlier than the clinics’ doctors did.
* Requires half of the records at all abortion clinics to be inspected every year by AHCA.
After more than an hour of debate and emotional testimony, the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee approved the legislation in a party-line vote: nine Republicans in favor and four Democrats opposed.
“This bill protects the health of Floridians,” Burton said. “We regulate procedures all across the board here in Florida, and while this particular procedure has an emotional component that many others don’t, it is still a medical procedure.”
Amber Kelly of the anti-abortion group Florida Family Action said that it “would give more options for women to receive health care in the state of Florida.”
But House Democrats said that’s not the case. Burton’s bill would stop funding non-abortion services at abortion clinics, which Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said would make things even more difficult for women who cannot afford health care.
Cruz said that she understands the predicament young women face when they need contraception and family planning services and cannot afford it. Cutting public funding, she argued, would make their situations more difficult.
“I was one of those women a long time ago,” Cruz said. “If it weren’t for the care of a center, I don’t know — I’m not sure what my situation would be today. But they were there for me when I needed them.”
Over the last five years, the state has cut positions in county health departments. Meanwhile, HIV infection is on the rise, with more new cases in Florida than anywhere else.
Meanwhile, other groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say the bill could be unconstitutional. It includes provisions similar to a Texas law currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Since a decision is expected in June, the Florida Legislature should wait for that Supreme Court ruling before moving forward," said Michelle Richardson, ACLU of Florida's director of public policy.
Next, the bill goes before the House Health and Human Services Committee, where chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, promises more heated debate. For him, the issue is about cutting down the number of abortions that take place in Florida. It’s also personal, he said.
“Over 40 years ago, right after Roe vs. Wade, I was adopted,” Brodeur said. “So those who say that we as men have no idea or no stake in this issue are completely false because there are people who never had an opportunity to come up to this podium to defend themselves and their life because they are gone.