Florida is growing ever so closer to making it more difficult for a woman to have an abortion, with the legislature considering at least three measures that would either restrict abortion rights or eliminate them altogether. One of those measures has been fast-tracked this week.
A bill that would require a woman to wait 24 hours before being able to undergo the procedure passed its final committee this week, moving one step closer to reaching a final vote in Tallahassee. That bill (SB 724/HB 633) would not only require a woman to wait 24 hours but would also require her to make two doctor's visits within that time frame.
"Inherent in this bill is the notion that women can't make up their minds on their own," Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates Executive Director Laura Goodhue tells New Times. "The drafters of this bill want to have women to have a reflection period," she adds, putting the emphasis on reflection.
According to the measure, the first visit would be a sort of counseling session with a physician before the patient returns for the procedure the next day. Proponents of the bill brought in an attorney who had an abortion 30 years ago to speak to the senate health policy panel about her regrets of having the procedure.
“Who knows if I would have changed my mind if I had received information about the procedure’s risks and the baby’s gestational age from a physician and then been required to wait 24 hours before ending my pregnancy?” Julie Costas, a Tallahassee attorney, said.
The issue with that so-called reflection period, Goodhue says, brings about health risks. "As with any medical procedure, the sooner you under go it, the better. Two trips to the doctor is a barrier for a woman. Not to mention the hassle and cost of having to see a doctor twice in a span of 24 hours."
Goodhue also explained the manner in which the bill passed its final committee hurdle.
"Over 30 people — women and men — signed up to speak at the meeting before the vote was the take place, to voice their opposition to the bill," she says. But, in the end, only two of the thirty-plus were able to speak before a vote was rushed through. The measure passed through on party-line votes. Proponents of the bill said they needed to take the vote by a certain time, or risk having it die.
"The irony," Goodhue said. "They want a woman to wait 24 hours before deciding to undergo a procedure, but they couldn't wait to allow people to speak out against the bill. They could have tabled it, but they rushed it."
When the session was called early, the meeting turned into mayhem, with opponents of the bill screaming that they had not had a chance to be heard. At leas one man had to be ushered out by security when he marched up to the podium to give a speech he had prepared.
The bill is of most concern to opponents because it's the closet to getting pushed through at the moment. But there are at least two others waiting in the wings as well.
One bill (SB 920/HB 147) would require abortion providers to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. This bill, which has been passed as law in other states, would fall under the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers law (TRAP), which, as in the case in Texas, can lead to clinics closing down should hospital administrators refuse to grant doctors admitting privileges.
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"A University hospital or a Catholic hospital can just up and decide not to grant a doctor admitting privileges," Goodhue says. "They'd have a legal right to have no reason to grant them."
And then there's a bill that would outright ban abortion altogether. HB 247 would ban abortions, without exception, including cases of rape or extreme fetal abnormalities. This bill, or a form of it, has been filed for several years. And each year, proponents of a woman's right to choose need to bat it back down, reminding lawmakers of Roe v. Wade and calling on people to petition their public officials.
It's an ongoing battle, Goodhue admits. But one that has seen people from all over the state push back with petitions and phone calls. Still, certain elected officials will continue to push their agendas, she says.
"In the last four years, there have been over 30 bills filed that would restrict a woman's health," Goodhue says.