Florida House abortion bill cleared last week could block new Planned Parenthood locations

03/05/12 Janelle Irwin
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update: this bill was blocked in the Senate Monday

Last week members of the Florida House easily passed a piece of legislation seen by opponents as a clean up anti-abortion bill. It includes many provisions that were either failed or left on the table during last year’s legislative session. Among them is language that would require abortion clinics to be owned and operated by a physician with abortion-specific training. Wendy Sears-Grassi, director of public affairs for local Planned Parenthoods said that would deter clinics from opening new centers or even changing locations.

“If we want to open a new health center in an area that doesn’t have any services, we won’t be able to. So, it’s really inhibiting women’s access to clinical care of her choice.”

Planned Parenthood is one of the loudest Tallahassee lobbyists for women’s health rights and some reproductive rights supporters think that’s what has landed them as the target of many anti-abortion initiatives. Grassi said she doesn’t know if this bill specifically targeted the Planned Parenthood, but regardless it is punishing a legitimate health service.

“The thing about it is, we only do – five percent of our patients come to us for abortions, between four and five percent. The rest of our health centers provide preventative services and well-woman care and life-saving cancer screenings and we won’t be able to open clinics like that if we also want to do abortion services and that’s a real shame.”

Last year legislation was passed and signed by the Governor that requires an ultra-sound photo before an abortion. If this year’s House abortion bill is signed by the Governor, women will also have to wait an entire day after leaving the clinic before undergoing the procedure. Grassi said that’s not only a mental burden on women, it’s also financially infeasible.

“So, that’s going to be – a woman’s going to have to come in and she’s going to have to leave and come back 24 hours later in order to get her abortion. This is a real hardship on a lot of women who don’t have a lot of money and who have to travel a long distance to get services. There are not a lot of abortion providers in Florida. So, it’s a hardship on women who need financial help and who aren’t able to afford all of the services they’re going to be required to have.”

The so called omnibus legislation also includes provisions forbidding advertising of services, outlaws third trimester abortions with limited exceptions and another - the controversial fetal pain provision that limits abortions after 20 weeks. Grassi said that part of the proposal was also introduced as its own bill.

“They have one up there, the House anyway – the Senate didn’t have one – that would ban abortions at 20 weeks gestation on the theory that that’s when the fetus begins to feel pain. However, there’s absolutely no medical evidence of that whatsoever. In fact, we’ve read journals that where it says that the fetus doesn’t feel pain until the 35th week or something like that.”

According to a study in Current Biology, a fetus doesn’t feel pain until 35-37 weeks of gestation. Another bill in the House that was introduced by Republican Representative Charles Van Zant for the second year in a row would have outlawed abortions entirely, but it hasn’t been debated. There is a similar bill to the one that passed last week in the Senate but it is stalled in committee. Grassi said in all there were 10 bills relating to limiting abortions during this year’s legislative session. Supporters of anti-abortion legislation say it protects the lives and health of both mothers and babies. But opponents uphold their argument that it’s a conservative attack on women’s health.

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