TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In a widely expected move, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday signed a measure that will require a 24-hour waiting period before women can have abortions.
The bill (HB 633), sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, prompted passionate debate during this spring's regular legislative session, but passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
"The importance of this bill is to give women an opportunity to reflect on a major decision that they are about to undertake -- a major medical procedure that will have lifelong effects, not just physically but mentally as well," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
The bill, which goes into effect July 1, adds to an already-existing law that requires physicians performing abortions to provide information to women to obtain their consent. Under the bill, the information must be provided in person to the women at least 24 hours before the procedures are performed.
The bill includes exceptions for victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking -- but those victims can waive the 24-hour wait only if they can produce police reports, restraining orders, medical records or other documentation.
"The idea that a woman who has been raped or violated has to now go get a police report in order to prove that, I find absurd and frankly insulting," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who opposed the bill.
Other opponents called the bill unconstitutional. Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said during floor debate in April that because the Florida Constitution guarantees the right to privacy, the bill is vulnerable to a challenge.
"I would not be surprised to see it challenged immediately," he said.
Sullivan, however, said she studied legislation passed by other states to help ensure the bill would withstand a constitutional challenge.
"I was very particular about how I worded it. I know Florida's constitution is a little bit different than some others," she said. "Even knowing that, I did try to go above and beyond in working with staff, to make sure that it would hold up in court."
The 24-hour waiting period will join already-existing requirements for informed consent, including discussing medical risks to the woman and fetus, a description of the fetus, and help finding alternatives to ending a pregnancy.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the bill is part of a long-term effort to whittle away at abortion rights.
"There are those who are not content unless they continue the effort to deny a woman the right to choose," she said.
Critics have argued, in part, that the waiting period would particularly affect women from rural areas who might have to travel long distances to abortion clinics. The requirement means women will have to make two trips to clinics.
"Planned Parenthood provides every woman with counseling, support and information about all of her options," Barbara A. Zdravecky, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a prepared statement Wednesday. "This law targets women who already have the least access to care and forces abortions later in pregnancy."
But Flores said women can still have abortions after the waiting period if they so decide, "but we feel that it's important to, as many other states have done, to give some time for women to reflect on this very important decision."