On the last day of session, the House tackled a health-care measure passed by the Senate which included an amendment requiring that most pregnant women considering an abortion have an ultrasound in the first trimester. The House passed the amendment 72-46, almost mirroring party lines.
Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates maintain that ultrasounds are one of the chief reasons that abortions are on the decline in Florida, with 2009 seeing the lowest number of abortions since 1997.
Before debate began, House Democrats, who had promised to fight the measure, spent 90 minutes questioning Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, the sponsor of the measure, on the need for the amendment and whether it conflicted with another amendment that forbids the use of taxpayer to pay for abortions.
The House engaged in an emotional debate with House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, frequently forced to admonish representatives for saying they were afraid of being assassinated for their defense of abortion and comparing the results of Roe vs. Wade to the Holocaust. Due to the intense emotional nature of the debate, Cretul suggested that underage pages leave the floor before it started.
At times, the chamber grew eerily silent as representatives spoke on personal matters, touching on unplanned pregnancies, currently pregnant spouses, rape and the emotional pains that resulted from miscarriages.
This is a baby, said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who talked about refusing to listen to advice to have an abortion when she was 17 and faced an unplanned pregnancy. It has a heartbeat. This is not a tadpole.
This is a very emotional issue, said Rep. Rachel Burgeon, R-Brandon, who spoke in favor of the amendment, noting that several other states had similar measures, including a law signed by then-governor of Kansas and now HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Democrats blasted Republicans for playing politics, trying to appeal to evangelical Christian voters.
Theres no bacon to bring back home, but you sure can bring the red meat, said Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port Saint Lucie.
Republicans took exception to these attacks, insisting that they were standing on principle.
There are a number of us in this chamber who believe life begins at conception, said Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. Lets do what everyone agrees -- make abortion more rare.
What are we going to say 50 years from now about the killing of 50 million babies? demanded Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla.
Reminding the House about Gov. Charlie Crist leaving the Republican Party to continue his campaign for the U.S. Senate as an independent, Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach, called on the governor to veto the measure.
I ask Gov. Crist to please listen to the people as I know you will, and do the peoples work and veto this bill. said Steinberg.
Weve heard from both sides very passionate, very compelling arguments, said Hudson who said he was pro-life while his own staff and family were torn over the issue. Theres been a lot of personal sharing today, he added. Im 43, I have a 26 year old son. You can do the math.
Hudson said the measure was about informed consent and allowing patients as much information as possible before making a medical decision. Its about making sure you understand what youre getting yourself into, he said.
The House supported other amendments from the Senate including a measure forbidding the use of taxpayer dollars for abortion and one supporting Attorney General Bill McCollums lawsuit against the federal government over health-care legislation signed by President Barack Obama.
The health care bill passed on a 76-44 vote and now heads to the governor.
Alex Tiegen contributed to this story.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or (850) 727-0859.