Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bill Requiring Ultrasounds Before Abortions Fails



A divided state Senate narrowly defeated a bill to require that most women seeking an abortion first be given an opportunity to look at an ultrasound image of the fetus.
The vote Wednesday was 20-20. Without a majority, the measure dies. There are ways a similar idea could resurface, but that is extremely unlikely with the legislative session scheduled to end Friday.
In a tense and emotional debate that went on for about an hour and a half, opponents from both parties said the bill would only create a new impediment to women seeking to end a pregnancy. That could violate U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have said government can't create such undue burdens.
They also argued that ultrasounds make abortions more expensive and therefore the new requirement would fall disproportionately on poor women.
Supporters, however, said the bill (SB 2400) would provide women with more information about a very serious decision. A couple lawmakers said they hoped it would encourage women about to have an abortion to change their minds.
State law already requires an ultrasound before a woman can have an abortion in her second or third trimester of pregnancy. The bill would have extended that to the first trimester.
It also would have added the requirement that the doctor give the woman the opportunity to look at the sonogram, although she could have declined to see it under the bill.
"If she doesn't want to see it, she doesn't have to see it," implored the measure's sponsor, Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Park.
The vote followed several days of behind-the-scenes work by lawmakers on both sides of the issue to persuade a few members who were undecided on the measure. Seven Republicans joined 13 Democrats in voting against the ultrasound requirement. One Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, joined 19 Republicans in voting for it.
The House had passed a similar bill in early April, although that measure also had other requirements involving minor girls seeking in court to be allowed to have an abortion without telling their parents. The Senate never seriously considered the House's broader bill, though, with Webster saying it never would have passed the more moderate Senate.
In 2006, about 95,000 pregnancies were terminated in Florida.
Opponents in the Senate argued that ultrasounds don't necessarily serve any medical purpose in a first trimester abortion, and that there aren't any other cases in which the state dictates procedures that doctors must use in various medical situations. That made the measure simply an attempt to coerce women into changing their mind about an abortion, several of them said.
One of the most passionate supporters of the bill, Sen. Ronda Storms, acknowledged that she did indeed hope it would discourage abortions when women look at the sonogram.
"There is something magical about seeing that baby take his little thumb and put it in his mouth and suck his thumb," said Storms, R-Valrico.
Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller was one of several opponents who said he is opposed to abortions, but argued it was a personal moral or religious decision that not everyone shared. But he agreed with Storms about the power of an ultrasound.
Geller recalled seeing the image of his son Mark in an ultrasound when his wife was pregnant and acknowledged it moved him deeply. He said he considered the fetus a child - even calling it by name.
But that was a decision based on his and his wife's deeply held - but personal - religious beliefs, said Geller, D-Cooper City.
"I can't say we should impose our views on the entire state," Geller said.
The bill had been favored by religious groups, including the Florida Catholic Conference.
"This would have allowed truly informed consent," said Mike McCarron, the conference's executive director. "How can we not give them the opportunity to see what is truly at stake in this procedure?"
Several other states have laws requiring ultrasounds before abortions, although they vary on the details such as whether women must view the sonogram.
Several of the seven Republicans who voted against the bill said the issue was one of privacy and freedom from government intrusion. Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said the requirement didn't fit his view of the Republican philosophy of less government.
"This is more government," said King. "It's government intrusion."
Read The House Bill

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