Senate panel approves ultrasound abortion bill
Arborist bill raises DR concerns; state song compromise floated
Apr 15, 2008
Executive Editor

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story went to press before action April 15 in the Senate Health and Human Service Appropriations Committee on SB 2400, the ultrasound abortion bill. A story covering action in that committee can be read here.

Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) speaks April 9 to youth from Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz visiting the Capitol. Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
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TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—The Senate Health Regulation Committee approved legislation requiring an ultrasound prior to a first trimester abortion on a largely party-line, 4-3 vote April 8, with one Democrat supporting the bill and one Republican in opposition.

Sponsored by Sen. Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden), a member of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando, a similar bill, HB 257, was approved by the Florida House of Representatives on April 2.

“Now, if you’re afraid of the facts or afraid of the truth, than you’re going to hide that. I don’t want to hide it; I want it to be available,” Webster said of ultrasounds that vividly show the growing life in the womb.

Noting that Florida’s informed consent law already requires an ultrasound be performed on pregnant women and girls seeking an abortion in the second and third trimester, Webster rhetorically asked, “what’s the difference between the last six months and the first three? It’s just a matter of where that fetus in the development is. And this is an opportunity to see first hand. … This is better information than a piece of paper.”

Rejecting testimony of an opponent of the legislation, Webster said he was not seeking a legislative legacy, but “just trying to do good public policy.” Webster is serving in his final session in the Florida Senate, barred from seeking reelection by term limits.

Speaking to the committee in opposition were representatives of Florida Planned Parenthood, Florida National Organization for Women, and an abortion provider from Ocala.

Stephanie Kunkel of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates told the committee only five percent of Florida’s more than 95,000 annual abortions are performed in the second and third trimester.

“While we applaud Sen. Webster for wanting his legacy to be a reduction in the number of abortions performed, Senate Bill 2400 is really misguided,” Kunkel said.

Jessica Lowe with Florida National Organization for Women said the bill’s provision requiring rape victims to provide documentation of their sexual assault in order to waive the ultrasound requirement will further traumatize women.

“This bill will make their traumatic event even more traumatic because they are going to have to pay for an unnecessary ultrasound and view that ultrasound when they are trying to make this very difficult decision and recover from what was a difficult event in their life,” Lowe said.

Mary Raum, an Ocala obstetrics and gynecology doctor who performs abortions, protested the bill as a “political and ideological effort to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship, mandating procedures not considered the standard of care and ultimately to legislate medicine.”

She added, “While the authors of this bill would simplisticly say that viewing an ultrasound is going to change minds, they are insulting women by implying a woman considering abortion has not approached the decision with reflection, tears and even prayers. This bill is intended to punish, not protect these women.”

Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole) said that the state’s budget crisis, concerns about patient confidentiality and opposition from medical professionals determined his decision to vote against the bill.

Jones’ fellow Republicans, Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Winter Haven), and committee chairman Sen. Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) supported the bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) broke with fellow Democrats, Sen. Dave Aaronberg (D-Greenacres) and Sen. Alfred Lawson (D-Tallahassee) in supporting the bill.

Noting he and his wife were impacted by seeing the ultrasound image of their first child, Alexander said Florida’s 95,000 annual abortions statistic is “a staggering number. Nobody wants to intervene into individuals’ lives, but I do believe that life begins at conception and that the state has a compelling right to make sure folks understand what they are doing.”

As of April 14, Webster’s bill is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee on April 15.

In other legislative developments during the week of April 7:

—Florida Baptist Convention legislative consultant Bill Bunkley testified April 8 before the Senate Military Affairs and Domestic Security Committee to express concerns about SB 2286, Florida Arborist Licensing Law, and its possible ramifications to disaster relief efforts. With the advice of Fritz Wilson, director of the Convention’s Disaster Relief and Recovery Department, the Arborist Association and Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), the bill’s sponsor, have agreed to amend the bill to protect charitable disaster relief workers recognized by the state.

—Proposed legislation, SB 1558, to change the official state song, “Swanee River” (“Old Folks Home”), regarded by many African Americans as racially insensitive, to “Florida” (“Where the Sawgrass Meets the Sky”), which won a statewide contest to replace “Swanee River,” may be approved now that Sen. Tony Hill (D-Jacksonville) has agreed to a compromise, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The compromise would update the lyrics of “Swanee,” but keep it as the official state song, while adding “Florida” as the official state anthem. (For more about the controversy about the state song, see March 15, 2007, Witness editorial, “Florida needs to sing a new song.”)

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