TALLAHASSEE -- The Republican-controlled Florida House on Tuesday turned aside Democratic proposals to add exemptions for women’s health to legislation aimed at further limiting abortion.
The chamber now is set to vote on six abortion-related measures Wednesday, including a couple of bills similar to legislation vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist last year.
One of the veto replacement bills (HB 1127) would require women to view ultrasounds of their fetuses or hear descriptions about them before getting an abortion.
The other (HB 97) would exclude abortion coverage from insurance policies obtained through insurance exchanges states must establish in 2014 under the federal health care overhaul.
Democrats offered women’s health exemptions to the insurance exchange bill and a proposed state constitutional amendment (HJR 1179) that would ban public funding for abortions. The exemptions failed on party-line votes.
The only exceptions in the constitutional amendment’s ban on public abortion funding are for rape, incest and to protect the mother’s life.
“I’m not comfortable having a requirement that a women in this state has to be on her death bed, has to be in a surgery room somewhere clinging to her life, before we require an insurance company to pay for a procedure to terminate a pregnancy,” said Rep. Scott Randolph.
The Orlando Democrat offered a women’s health exemption to the proposed constitutional amendment. He said it would put the ballot proposal into conformity with the Hyde Amendment, a federal law that already bans public funding of abortions but includes an exception to protect a mother’s health.
Rep. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who is sponsoring the amendment, argued against the exemption. “There is a significance difference between allowing (someone) to die, even when death is foreseen, and intentionally ending life,” Baxley said.
Baxley’s proposal initially also would have made no exception for rape or incest, but those exemptions were added in committee.
The proposal also would carve out an exemption for abortion to the Florida Constitution’s strong privacy right. The U.S. Constitution’s weaker privacy right, which the Supreme Court cited in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, would still apply.
Senate versions of Baxley’s amendment (SJR 1538) and the insurance exchange bill (SB 1414) also are scheduled for initial floor debate in that chamber Wednesday with roll calls expected Thursday.
The ultrasound view would let a woman refuse to view the image but she could not opt out of the description unless she can document that she was a victim of rape, incense, domestic violence or human trafficking or that she suffers from a condition that would create a serious risk to her health. A similar bill (SB 1744) is moving through the Senate but has not yet been scheduled for floor action.
Other abortion bills set for floor votes in the House would:
n Make it more difficult for minors to obtain court waivers from a law that requires parental notification before they can get abortions (HB 1247). One provision would set new requirements for judges to consider when determining a minor’s maturity to make a decision about abortion. It also would require a girl to go to a court in the circuit where she lives rather than in her appellate district, which is larger, and give judges three business days instead of only 48 hours to decide each case.
n Expand the category of prohibited abortions to include cases in which the fetus is viable as determined by a doctor rather than banning them only in the third trimester. The bill (HB 1397) also includes a variety of new requirements and restrictions for doctors and abortion clinics.
n Give surcharge funds from “Choose Life” motor vehicle tags to the nonprofit Choose Life Inc. to facilitate adoptions anywhere (HB 501). Current law sends that money back to the counties where it had been raised for adoption purposes. The bill also would allow Choose Life to spend 20 percent of the tag proceeds for administration and promotion, which currently is prohibited.