by Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida
After an emotional debate that touched on the role of government and personal values, the Florida Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that will require ultrasounds before women can have abortions.
Senators also approved a bill to tighten the state’s parental-notification law, which deals with minors seeking abortions.
In all, the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed four measures this week aimed at making it less likely that women or girls will get abortions.
The Senate voted 24-15 for the ultrasound bill (HB 1127), which is similar to a measure that former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last year. Supporters said mandating ultrasounds will give women more information, and could lead some to forgo abortions.
“This is not telling them what to do with their body,’’ said Sen. Thad Altman (R-Melbourne). “This is just giving them more information to make an informed decision.’’
But Sen. Evelyn Lynn (R-Ormond Beach) criticized the Legislature’s focus on abortion bills when many Floridians are unemployed and losing homes in foreclosure. She said she would not vote to make a decision about “your personal values, your personal religion, and your personal body.’’
“This is not the issue that is the most important issue in this state,’’ said Lynn.
Senate bill sponsor Ronda Storms, however, defended focusing on abortion, saying lawmakers make value decisions on numerous types of issues.
“The great questions of life are why we’re here,’’ said the Valrico Republican.
The measure, which now goes to Gov. Rick Scott, would require ultrasounds before women can have first-trimester abortions, a requirement that already is in place for later-term abortions. Women would have to sign forms if they do not want to see the fetal images or hear descriptions.
Democrats blasted what they described as government interfering in the relationship between doctors and patients.
They also said Republican support for the ultrasound bill contradicted the GOP’s stance that last year’s federal health-care overhaul was a government intrusion into personal medical issues.
“I think women can make an informed decision on their own without the government interfering,’’ said Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston).
But Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) said a recent change in the bill led him to support it. That change eliminated a requirement that women hear descriptions of the ultrasound
With Republicans dominating both chambers of the Legislature — and the conservative Scott in the governor’s office — abortion opponents have moved forward with a series of bills during this year’s session.
On Wednesday, lawmakers gave final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would make clear public money cannot be used for abortions.
Also, they approved a bill that would ban abortion coverage in policies sold through a state health-insurance exchange, which is expected to start operating in 2014 because of the federal health overhaul.
Before passing the ultrasound bill Thursday, Senators voted 26-12 to approve the parental notice measure (HB 1127), which also is ready to go to Scott.
Florida law already requires that parents be notified before minors can have abortions. But the bill seeks to tighten restrictions on what is known as a judicial “bypass,” a process that allows minors to seek court approval for abortions without their parents being told.
As an example, the bill will require minors to go to courts in the judicial circuits where they live. Currently, they are able to go before judges anywhere in their appellate districts, a far-larger number of courts in some regions of the state.
Critics said that could threaten the confidentiality of minors seeking abortions, particularly in rural areas where judges or courthouse workers might know their families. The critics said some teens would be in danger of violence if family members find out they are pregnant or seeking abortions.
Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) said the current judicial-bypass system works.