Despite last session’s onslaught of legislation aimed at cracking down on legal abortions in the state, the Florida Legislature did not pass a single anti-abortion bill during the 2012 legislative session. About ten anti-abortion bills were introduced this year.
The Florida House did pass a bill, however, that women’s health and civil rights advocates denounced as an “omnibus anti-choice bill” because it was written to include several anti-abortion measures that did not pass in the GOP-led Florida Legislature last year.
The bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, and state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, would have restricted abortion rights and contained provisions placing onerous restrictions on abortion providers statewide. Among the regulations was one requiring all abortion clinics to be wholly-owned and operated by a physician. Representatives from Planned Parenthood claimed that the provision would have made it nearly impossible for the chain of women’s health clinics to open any new facilities in the state. Providers would also be required to take ethics classes and would not be able to advertise their services, which critics argued was a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
If passed, the bill would have instilled a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion and would have stripped language that provides an exception to “save the life or preserve the health of the pregnant woman” in third-trimester abortion restrictions.
Prior to its passage in the House, the bill was amended to also include “fetal pain” language outlawing abortions after 20 weeks. “Fetal pain” measures have been found to be “neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound” by researchers and operate under the premise that a fetus can feel pain as early as 20 weeks, outlawing abortions once a fetus is presumed to feel pain. Current law protects a woman’s right to have an abortion up to at least 22-24 weeks of pregnancy and the most recent study on this issue, published in Current Biology, found that a fetus does not feel pain until 35 to 37 weeks of gestation.
While the bill did not make it through all its committees in the Senate, there was an unsuccessful attempt to use a procedural move to bring the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor for a final vote. A coalition of Democrats and Republicans, led by State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, blocked that move, effectively killing the bill’s chances of getting to the governor’s desk. Women’s health advocates waited until the session finally ended, however, to officially declare victory.
Upon the adjournment of the session late last Friday night, Planned Parenthood released a statement saying:
Tonight the Florida Legislature formally adjourned the 2012 Legislative Session without passing any legislation that would limit women’s access to essential health care services.
“We are encouraged that legislators put women’s health before politics by rejecting efforts to target health centers that provide the reproductive health care and family planning services that women need,” said Judith Selzer, Vice President for Public Policy at the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “Given that Floridians continue to be plagued by the lagging economy and a growing lack of access to health care, legislators must continue to reject attempts to make it even harder for women to access health care services.”