TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A House panel Thursday plunged into the legislative session's first abortion debate, approving a measure that would require a 24-hour waiting period before women could terminate pregnancies.
The battle lines were familiar: Republicans and abortion opponents on one side, Democrats and abortion-rights supporters on the other.
In the end, the GOP-dominated Health Quality Subcommittee voted 9-4 to approve the measure (HB 633), filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora. Under the bill, a woman seeking an abortion would be required to meet with a physician to get information and then wait at least 24 hours before the procedure could be performed.
Sullivan said the bill would empower "women to make an informed decision versus an unexpected, rushed and pressured one."
"It gives them the opportunity to have that face-to-face with their doctor 24 hours in advance, to be able to think through that just like any other procedure as common practice,'' Sullivan said.
But opponents argued that a 24-hour waiting period is not medically necessary and that such a delay could be hardship on women who live in areas without abortion clinics. Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, said state law does not require similar waiting periods for other procedures, including vasectomies.
"A mandatory delay is not something that should be imposed on a woman, because there are lots and lots of procedures, as we know, that happen every day with doctors and there is not a single instance in Florida law or in this country where someone is required to wait, other than having an abortion,'' Jacobs said.
Republican lawmakers in recent years have incrementally increased restrictions on abortions, such as approving a law that requires women to have ultrasounds before they can undergo the procedures.
Sullivan's bill would need to clear two more committees before it can go to the full House, while an identical bill (SB 724), filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, has not received its first committee hearing in the Senate. Also this session, lawmakers could consider bills (SB 920 and HB 147) that would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals if they perform abortions in Florida.
During Thursday's debate, groups such as Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union lined up with Democrats in opposing the waiting-period bill, while groups such the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Florida Family Policy Council joined Republicans in supporting it.
"The delay you are considering is not medically necessary and could in fact interfere with a woman's health, '' said Michelle Richardson, a lobbyist for the ACLU of Florida. "Only a woman and her doctor should make decisions about what is best for her in her unique situation. Requiring two trips to a facility, regardless of a woman's circumstances, and an override of a medical professional's judgment places politicians between a woman and her health-care provider."
But Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican who is an orthopedic surgeon, said the waiting period is medically necessary and pointed to data that he said indicates some women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after undergoing abortions.
"I do not see this as anything else other than an attempt to protect women from a rushed decision that they may regret for the rest of their lives,'' Gonzalez said.