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Abortion Bills Move Through Florida House Panel

April 19, 2011 - 6:00pm

A series of bills placing restrictions on abortions were approved by a House committee Wednesday, and unsurprisingly the debate got emotional, with claims and counterclaims being leveled for nearly every provision.

Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee approved three bills by largely partisan votes that collectively bar using state or federal funds for abortions (except in cases of rape, incest, or the endangerment of the health of the mother); require abortion-seekers to undergo ultrasounds; and restrict doctors from performing abortions in the third trimester or after the fetus is viable.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, choked up when relating the story of her decision to have her daughter when she was 16.

"I understand that everyone -- that everyone is not a Catholic. I understand that everyone does not pray to the same God that I pray to. Members, I'm going to ask you today to please not take abortions back to the back room, to people who are not qualified, putting the health and the life of a woman at risk," Cruz said during discussion of HB 97, which would ban taxpayer funds for abortions.

A representative for Planned Parenthood said that HB 97 does not provide sufficient protections for exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother, and claimed federal laws protect against public funding of abortions. But Larry Spalding, a self-described "lobbyist emeritus" for the American Civil Liberties Union, took his objections to the bill a step further, arguing that the mostly male committee did not have the necessary experience to regulate the choices of women.

"I'm not sure I'm qualified, I'm not sure you men are qualified to tell women what choices they can make about their own lives," Spalding said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Destin, the bill's sponsor, took exception.

"While I've been accused of not being qualified for many things in my life ... I hope I'm qualified enough to be pro-life, even though I am a man," Gaetz said.

The debate over HB 1127 requiring ultrasounds before abortions devolved into a fight over the motives of Planned Parenthood. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Liz Porter, R-Lake City, said the organization has more than the health of women in mind.

"The real objective of organizations like Planned Parenthood is not fear of the effect to women, but the fear of the effect of their bottom line," said Porter, whose bill calls for videos and descriptions of the fetus to be given to the mother if she chooses. "Clinics are not going to be inclined to share the kind of information that will prevent women from getting an abortion," she added.

Rep. Ron Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, claimed that abortions drive 30 percent of Planned Parenthood's income, but Stephanie Kunkel, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist, refuted that charge, saying that 97 percent of its operations nationwide are services other than abortions. She also subtly reminded Republicans that the GOP does not usually mind pushing legislation with a profit motive.

"I'm a little surprised the chamber isn't here opposing this bill," Kunkel said of HB 1397, which restricts abortions after viability, arguing that the bill imposes undue regulations on clinics that provide abortions.

All three bills next head to the House floor.

Reach Gray Rohrer at or at (850) 727-0859.

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