More abortion restrictions advancing in Florida Legislature

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Anti-abortion forces in the Florida Legislature are advancing a handful of bills they say are aimed at protecting the health of women, but that opponents say aim to deny access to abortions.

If the measures pass, legal challenges are likely. A measure passed in Florida and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year, requiring a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, hasn’t yet taken effect because of a challenge in state courts.

One bill, responding to last year’s national controversy over Planned Parenthood, would ban Medicaid payments for any service to any clinic that provides abortions, and ban research use of fetal tissue resulting from abortions.

Another proposal would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Clinics where abortions are performed would have to meet the same licensing requirements as walk-in surgical centers, including specialized, detailed building codes.

The bills are similar to a national strategy by abortion opponents to restrict abortions through state legislation, in the face of federal court rulings preventing an outright ban. Similar measures on licensing standards and admitting privileges enacted in Texas in 2013 sharply reduced the number of abortion clinics there. They’re now the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court challenge likely to be decided this summer.

Some backers acknowledge that reducing the number of abortions performed is part of reason for the various measures.

“These bills do nothing but make abortion safer, rarer and still legal,” said John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council. “Rarer is something most people want to see on a bipartisan basis.”

Anti-abortion legislators say the admitting privileges should be required to prevent what they call “patient dumping,” when a patient ends up in the emergency room because of complications from an abortion.

“We don’t need a Kermit Gosnell situation here,” said Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, sponsor of an admitting privileges bill, referring to a Philadelphia abortion doctor found guilty in of murder in 2013 for illegal and botched abortions.

Opponents of measures to restrict abortion say the true purpose of the measures is to close clinics by imposing onerous regulations.

“If politicians were really interested in protecting women’s health, they would expand access to care instead of restricting access to a safe and legal procedure,” said Laura Goodhue, head of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican from Lakeland, told a Senate committee Tuesday the defunding measure in her bill was motivated by what she called last summer’s “horrific story” accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from sale of fetal tissue. She said if Medicaid patients can’t go to a clinic because it offers abortions, there are still plenty of alternatives.

Sen. Elaine Sobel, D-Hollywood, defended Planned Parenthood and said defunding the organization would primarily hurt poor women.

“Many people who go to Planned Parenthood don’t have a lot of money, and these are vital services” such as pap smears, mammograms and tests for HIV and other diseases the organization offers, she said.

Florida currently has 65 clinics licensed to perform abortions.