After 20 minutes of rushed discussion Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a plan that would require women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion.
The party-line vote took place at the end of a Senate Health Policy Committee meeting, which also included a discussion on medical marijuana. Only one senator had time to speak about the abortion bill, along with just two of the 32 citizens who had signed up to testify.
The fast pace infuriated women’s rights activists, who blasted the panel after the meeting during an impromptu press conference.
“It was purposely put before lunch to stifle free debate,” said Terri Wonder, a member of the Democratic Women’s Club of Manatee County.
The bill (SB 724) would require women to discuss the risks of having an abortion with their physician at least 24 hours before the procedure. The conversation would have to take place in person.
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said she sponsored the proposal because an abortion is a “major medical procedure.”
“You don’t go into a knee surgeon one day and say tomorrow I want to get a full knee [replacement],” Flores said. “I don’t think this should be treated any differently.”
Flores added that she had heard “horror stories from women who regret their decision.”
“We want to ensure not just that women are aware of the psychological effects, but that they are aware of the medical and physical effects, as well,” she said.
Conservative leaders, including John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council, are supporting the effort.
Julie Costas, a pro-life activist from Tallahassee, called the 24-hour delay “very reasonable,” and noted that several states require women to wait 72 hours.
But Dr. Christopher Estes, of Planned Parenthood of South Florida, said the proposal would do “nothing to improve the health of women in this state.”
“It would place our patients in a difficult situation, adding a medically unnecessary delay in care,” Estes said.
Before the vote, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, tried to tweak the proposal so that women could have the initial meeting with their doctor over the phone or using video conferencing technology.
“Many of these women have families and jobs or they go to school,” said Sobel. “It’s unfair.”
The Republican-dominated panel rejected her suggestion.
When it came time for debate, only Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, of Tampa, had the opportunity to speak.
“This bill is just another impediment in a continuing effort to erode a women’s right to choose,” she said, adding that the committee should have spent more time on the issue.
The abortion bill must win the support of two additional Senate committees before it can be voted on on the floor. Its companion in the House (HB 633) has a hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.