TALLAHASSEE—The state Senate gave final approval Friday to a bill that would add further restrictions to Florida’s abortion laws, preventing most abortions after fetuses reach “viability.”
The Senate voted 24-15, along almost straight party lines, to approve the bill (HB 1047). The House voted 70-45 earlier this month to pass the measure, meaning it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
The measure, which has sparked fiery debate, defines viability as the stage of fetal development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb via standard medical measures. It would require physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable, and if so, abortions generally wouldn’t be allowed.
The bill would provide for administrative and criminal penalties against anyone who performs or participates in providing an abortion during viability.
Supporters say the measure could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, while opponents called it a setback for women’s reproductive rights. Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was the only senator who crossed party lines, as she voted against the bill.
“This bill further erodes a woman’s right to choose,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said.
But Senate president Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, hailed the measure, saying “no life is more vulnerable than that of an unborn child.”
Under current law, most abortions are banned during the third trimester of pregnancy.
If Scott signs the bill, as expected, it wouldn’t affect the great majority of abortions. The state had 71,503 reported abortions in 2013, with 65,098 performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 6,405 performed from the 13th to 24th weeks and none performed later, according to a Senate staff analysis.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, offered an amendment that would have established the same criminal penalties for those who perform or participate in vasectomies as those involved in abortions after viability --- a third-degree felony. The amendment failed.
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Margolis said. “(Men are) making choices. They’re making choices every single day. And doctors are making choices to perform that.”
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said women make choices before they get pregnant.
“The amendment basically is insinuating that women don’t have a choice with this bill, and therefore men shouldn’t have a choice,” Stargel said. “And I would argue that this bill is not taking away a woman’s choice.”
Sponsor Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said the bill would give unwanted infants the chance for a better life than they would have had otherwise.
“Why not give that child a chance to be put up for adoption?” Flores asked.
Reaction to the passage was swift.
Florida’s Catholic bishops praised lawmakers for passing the bill, especially Flores and House sponsor Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach.
“As a result of advances in medicine, technology, and research, children may reach viability at earlier stages of development,” the bishops said in a statement. “While Florida law currently limits abortions in the third trimester, there are children who have reached viability during the second trimester.”
The Catholic group called on Scott to sign the measure into law.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich, however, condemned the bill’s passage and vowed in an email to veto “any anti-choice legislation” if she is elected.
“This legislation is yet another attempt by right-wing ideologues to interfere with decisions that should be between a woman and her doctor,” Rich said. “It is not only wrong, it is likely unconstitutional, and when I am governor I will veto bills like this the minute they hit my desk.”
The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates said the focus of the legislative session should have been on expanding access to health care, not trying to make it harder for women to get care.
“Sadly, today’s vote in the Florida Senate took a big step in the wrong direction,” the group said in a statement. “This bill attempts to insert politics into a deeply personal and complex decision that should be left to a woman, her family, her faith and her doctor.”