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Senate panel advances bill to defund abortion providers

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After nearly an hour of at times emotional debate on Wednesday, a Senate budget panel approved a controversial proposal to prohibit public funds from going to any facility that provides abortions.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Health & Human Services passed SB 1722 by a party-line vote Wednesday morning, with the eight-member panel’s three Democrats voting in opposition.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, targets state funding for family planning and women’s health. While Florida already has a ban on publicly financed abortions on the books, Stargel’s bill would go further: any clinic that offers abortion services, like many run by Planned Parenthood, would be prohibited from receiving any state funding, regardless of whether it funds the procedure.

The debate drew dozens of public appearance cards and pointed testimony on both sides.

Hollywood Democratic Sen. Eleanor Sobel, for instance, called the bill an obvious maneuver to punish Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers that could see women lose affordable access to care. Sobel also said the bill contravenes current law stating the Legislature shall not restrict access to family planning services.

“By shutting the doors of Planned Parenthood, we are denying family planning to those women, plain and simple,” said Sobel.

Sobel cited follow-up reports saying the national group was cleared of any wrongdoing in the wake of the controversy over videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing the sale of fetal tissue, and said ensuring the group’s viability in Florida was a matter of “economic justice.”

Stargel and fellow supporters of the bill said the bill would not reduce overall funding for women’s health – it would simply move it to different facilities that do not perform abortions. One supporter said there are nearly 700 public health facilities in Florida that could step in and replace the services provided by Planned Parenthood.

Stargel, a Polk County Republican, amended her bill after it passed its first committee stop in Health Policy last month to account for debate over whether abortion clinics should be required to have admitting privileges to a local hospital, or simply a transportation arrangement with one. The current version of the proposal reflects the latter.

The bill heads next to the Fiscal Policy committee, chaired by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

The House companion, HB 1411 by Rep. Colleen Burton now awaits a vote before the full chamber.

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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