Three bills that would restrict access to legal abortions in the state passed a state House health committee yesterday.
The bills passed down party lines and heard rigorous debate before moving on to their next committee stop. The three measures included legislation that would outlaw race- and sex-based abortions; a “fetal pain” bill, which would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks; and a bill that women’s health advocates are calling an“omnibus anti-choice bill” because it contains several measures that would make it harder for women to obtain a legal abortions and also make it harder for providers to provide the legal service.
During debate over the “fetal pain” bill, opponents pointed out that the bill did not include an exception for victims of rape or incest. A female student from Florida State University testifying before the committee called the omission of an exemption ”reprehensible.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, said that “protecting patients from pain … trumps all other concerns,” when asked about whether he would seek to add an exemption for rape or incest.
But no one went as far as state Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka. Van Zant is the legislator who recently filed an all-out abortion ban in the state. Van Zant said during the committee meeting that providing an exemption for rape would be like ”giving death penalty to the baby” conceived during the crime.
Bills that ban abortions according to whether a fetus can feel pain have been deemed “neither scientifically nor constitutionally sound” by researchers in the past. Current law also protects a woman’s right to have an abortion up to 22-24 weeks, at least. Davis’ law would make abortions illegal as early as 20 weeks.
The science behind these bills is inconsistent. Not all scientists agree that a fetus can feel pain as early as 20 weeks. 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.
When asked if he believed his bill was constitutionally sound, Davis said he believes it is.
A bill containing a long list of restrictions for women seeking an abortion and targeted onerous regulations for abortion providers also passed. The measure contains provisions that restrict “the circumstances in which an abortion may be performed in the third trimester or after viability,” and pushes a handful of anti-abortion measures that did not make it through last session. It also sets up strict third trimester abortion restrictions. The law would only provide an exception if it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” However, the bill’s sponsor removed language that provided an exception to “save the life or preserve the health of the pregnant woman.”
State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, pointed out that the bill does not provide a protection for women with a mental health problem or health problems such as cancer.
Emily Caponetti, of Planned Parenthood, said during public testimony that the restrictions on providers were “unrealistic” and could lead to the closure of many clinics that provide health care for women.
Van Zant countered, by saying that treating providers differently from other professionals in the medical field was right because “other doctors are not in the business of killing life.”
Planned Parenthood in Florida released a statement today following the passage of the bills. According to the statement, “instead of focusing on improving women’s health, the Legislature is attacking women’s rights – and endangering their health,” said Planned Parenthood’s Judith Selzer. “It’s time for our elected officials to stop playing politics with women’s health.”