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Legislature passes new strictures on abortion clinics

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The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that critics say would curtail women’s access to safe and legal abortions, while supporters say it simply “gets Florida out of the abortion business.”

The measure to increase medical requirements on abortion clinics, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, passed 25-15 after nearly half an hour of debate.

After the Senate removed language pledging the state’s commitment to an “unborn child’s right to life,” which many legal observers could have added further constitutional complications,” the House then approved the same measure 76-40.

House Democrats used the request to accept the Senate’s changes to once again call on lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

Just like the yesterday’s successful discussion on the bill, which also removes funding for any state contract with women’s health providers that also provide abortions, the debate brought out deeply personal sentiments.

Democrat Sen. Bill Montford spoke about counseling pregnant high school students and their families when he was principal of a high school in Tallahassee.

“It was the most personal, most difficult decision a young woman could make. And I don’t think we ought to sit here and dictate to them how they ought to make it,” said Montford.

Fellow North Florida lawmaker Republican Sen. Alan Hays had an equally adamant but diametrically opposed point of view. He likened abortion to murder, and the United States Supreme Court’s policy of allowing it to mass murder.

“If any world leader called for the killing of 10,000 people in their country, we’d be up here screaming ‘genocide!’ Hays exclaimed. “But here in America, millions of babies have been killed in the womb. If abortion isn’t genocide, I don’t know what it is.”

While House debate on the bill focused more strictly on the requirements on clinics written into the bill – they must have admitting privileges to or a “transfer agreement” with a nearby hospital – some senators like Hays and Sen. Rob Bradley among others couched the debate in terms of outright opposition to abortion.

Sen. Jeff Clemens thanked them for their candor, which he said helped reveal to the public and to future courts reviewing the bill its true intentions.

“They were brave enough to get up here today and let everybody know this bill is about restricting a woman’s right to choose. And I think that’s going to be important because when the Supreme Court rejects this bill – like they’ve rejected bill after bill after bill in the past 16 years – the court is going to be able to look at intent and understand that,” said Clemens. “So I appreciate that honesty.”

Stargel said Clemens was essentially knocking on an open door when it comes to supporters’ intentions.

“Would I like a bill that bans abortion? Sure. But we can do that because it’s unconstitutional,” said Stargel.

Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs reminded her colleagues that legal abortion is the law of the land in the U.S. under Roe v. Wade, and that by limiting Florida women’s access to the procedure, they are only placing a burden on women. She pointed to Texas and other southern states, where inquiries into unsafe homemade pregnancy terminations are on the rise.

Having already passed the House, the bill now moves to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott for his likely signature.

Following the debate, Senate President Andy Gardiner made a rare comment from the rostrum, thanking Stargel for carrying the bill.

Though known by Tallahassee standards as a relative moderate on policy issues, he is strongly opposed to abortion.

“It was mentioned earlier that over the last 16 years, it seems like every year we do a pro-life bill” said Gardiner.

“I’m leaving and I’m glad we did that.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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