Florida Politics

Abortions soon may be harder to obtain in Florida

Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, debates on an abortion bill during session, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Tallahassee.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, debates on an abortion bill during session, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Tallahassee. AP

Abortion clinics won’t be able to receive state money for preventive care, and they’ll need privileges at nearby hospitals under a new set of restrictions that passed the Legislature on Wednesday.

State law already bans using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. But about $200,000 in Medicaid funds are spent annually on testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings and preventive care at abortion clinics.

Anti-abortion advocates in the Legislature assert that it is tantamount to supporting abortions. Instead, they want that money to be spent in other kinds of clinics, like crisis pregnancy centers and federally qualified health centers.

“The idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions is simply intolerable,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.

The legislation passed 25-15 in the Senate, and 76-40 in the House on Wednesday. Gov. Rick Scott has not yet indicated whether he’ll sign it.

Beyond the Medicaid issue, advocates also maintain that tougher rules are necessary to bring abortion clinics in line with other healthcare facilities, such as ambulatory care centers.

“This bill says we’re going to treat abortion clinics the same way that we treat other similarly situated clinics,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, the bill’s sponsor.

Opponents say tough new rules could lead to some clinics closing down because of requirements that doctors must have admitting privileges or transfer agreements with a nearby hospital.

And the ban on state funding, they say, would hurt women who seek preventive care, specifically at six Planned Parenthood clinics.

“If the true aim were life, this measure would not only allow but boost the funding for these clinics that provide prenatal care to mothers and babies and expand affordable healthcare for Floridians,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

The measure likely will face court challenges.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case about a Texas law with tough regulations similar to those in the Florida bill that are alleged to be unconstitutional. On Friday, the court instituted an injunction to stop a law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges in Louisiana.

In Florida, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period signed into law last summer is in the middle of its own court challenge. Opponents allege that the law, as well as the bill that was passed on Wednesday, violate strict privacy provisions in the state Constitution that have been interpreted to ban any undue burdens restricting access to abortions.

The bill was passed in the wake of controversy over videos released online appearing to show Planned Parenthood doctors in other states talking about a fetal remains donation program.

It would make tougher restrictions against improperly disposing of fetal remains. And it would change the definition of trimesters in state laws to validate state regulators’ argument in a series of complaints filed last year against Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, an abortion rights supporter who voted with Democrats against the new regulations, said the Legislature should stop “nibbling around the edges” of the abortion debate. The issue reminds her of anti-smoking campaigns, she said.

“Just because you took everybody’s ash trays away doesn’t mean they quit smoking,” Detert said. “Just because we make it more difficult for people to get an abortion or more expensive doesn’t mean that those people who want an abortion aren’t going to try to get one. They’ve done it historically for hundreds of years.”

Other senators, including Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, the first woman elected president of the Florida Senate, called the legislation an “outrage.” She said the Legislature continues to move abortion bills each year because it “obviously is not a women’s group.”

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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