TALLAHASSEE -- A bill requiring medical care for newborns surviving botched abortions was overwhelmingly passed Wednesday by the Florida House, a rare show of unanimity in the contentious abortion debate that will play out in coming days.
The measure (HB 1129) cleared the House on a 119-0 vote. It would penalize abortion providers who don't render medical care for infants who are born alive despite attempted abortions.
"Every infant born alive, regardless of the manner of birth, has a right to receive the appropriate care available to them," said Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, the bill's sponsor.
Abortion-rights supporters say the scenario contemplated by the bill is extremely rare. But some abortion opponents have said it's not such a rarity.
The bill's advocates included Gail Adger, a 41-year-old
woman who claimed she was living proof of its necessity. She told a House committee recently that she was born two days after her mother underwent a procedure that she thought terminated the pregnancy.
Adger said she weighed less than two pounds and had no heartbeat when her unwed mother delivered her over a toilet. Her mother stuffed her into a garbage bag, thinking she had died. But when she coughed, her mother called 911 and she was taken to a hospital, Adger said in testifying for the bill.
A similar bill being considered in the Florida Senate has advanced through a couple of committees.
Under the House bill, failure to treat newborns who survive abortions or to have them transported to a hospital would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. The measure also requires abortion providers to report failed procedures to state health authorities.
"This legislation aims to protect the most fragile and innocent citizens of our state. Every child born alive deserves a fighting chance, and this legislation will ensure that they get that chance in our state," said House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, R-Orlando.
Pigman has said his bill does not affect actual abortion procedures.
Also Wednesday, the House began its review of another bill that would ban sex- and race-selective abortions.
The measure (HB 845) would require abortion providers to sign an affidavit stating they had no knowledge the procedure was being done based on the unborn child's sex or race. Providers would be slapped with a $10,000 fine for failing to report such abortions.
Rep. Charles Van Zant, the bill's lead sponsor, said sex- and race-selective abortions are becoming more prevalent, but didn't provide any numbers on how many such abortions are done.
The bill drew a series of questions from Democrats who asked how an abortion provider would determine whether a woman was seeking an abortion because of the unborn child's gender or race. Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, replied that the information would be provided as part of the doctor-patient relationship.
Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said the bill would force doctors to "put on a police officer's cap" and investigate a woman's reasons for terminating a pregnancy.
The bill is now ready for a final vote.
Another bill that got an initial review but no final vote from the House on Wednesday would make the death of an unborn child a separate crime from any offense committed against the mother, even if the perpetrator was unaware the woman was pregnant.
The measure (HB 759) would apply to fetuses at any point in gestational development. It would not apply to people conducting legal abortions.
The bill also drew a number of questions from Democratic lawmakers.
Abortion-rights supporters have said the bill is another attempt by abortion foes to elevate the status of fetuses to that of adult humans.