By Christine Stapleton – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Article | Posted: 5:17 p.m. Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Wednesday Florida’s latest effort to regulate abortion, requiring any woman seeking an abortion to personally meet with the physician performing the procedure, or a referring physician, at least 24 hours before the procedure.With the law, Florida becomes the 27th state that requires women seeking abortions to wait a specified period of time between the time they receive counseling and the procedure is performed. Florida also joins 10 other states whose waiting periods are so long that they effectively require women to make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure.
It’s also one of about three dozen new anti-abortion rules passed in 11 states this year and more than 200 such laws passed in the last four years, according to Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion legal group.
“The importance of this bill is to give women an opportunity to reflect on a major decision that they are about to undertake — a major medical procedure that will have lifelong effects, not just physically but mentally as well,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
But Mona Reis, founder of the Presidential Women’s Center, a clinic in West Palm Beach where abortions are performed, said, “This creates more hoops and hurdles she (a woman) has to jump through depending on her situation – taking more time off work, extra child care.”
The bill enacted into law (HB 633), sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, prompted passionate debate during this spring’s regular legislative session, but passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.
It goes into effect July 1 and adds to an already-existing law that requires physicians performing abortions to provide information to women to obtain their consent. That existing law includes a requirement that women undergo an ultrasound before an abortion and be shown the images and hear an explanation unless they sign a form refusing.
The new law means pregnant women must go to the clinic twice for an abortion — once to meet with the physician, “physically present in the same room, and at least 24 hours before the procedure” and a second time for the actual procedure.
The new law does include an exception to the 24-hour waiting period for victims of rape, incest, domestic violence or human trafficking, but those victims can waive the wait only if they can produce police reports, restraining orders, medical records or other documentation.
Reis said there is no medical or scientific reason why women should wait 24 hours after meeting with doctor to have the procedure.
“We know what this is – this is something they’ve created with the hopes that a woman will change her mind,” Reis said.
But Flores said the law empowers and protects women by giving them a 24-hour “reflection period” after discussing the procedure with their doctors rather than being rushed or pressured into an abortion by their parents, friends, husband or boyfriend.
“One day to reflect upon the risks of abortion, one day to view an image of the unborn child’s ultrasound image, and one day to consult with friends, family and faith are minimal considering the effects that will remain for a lifetime beyond that irreversible decision,” Flores said in a statement released shortly after the bill was signed.
Reis, however, said it creates a hardship that will be especially burdensome for poor women and those who live far from a clinic.
Reis expects some women will be surprised and angry when they arrive at a clinic, only to learn they must make a second trip after meeting with the doctor. She also expects the law will increase the cost of an abortion because doctors will have to work longer hours to fulfill its requirements.
“This is a huge, huge change,” she said. “After delivering care the same way for 34 years, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Shortly after Scott signed the bill, Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party also denounced the law as a “demeaning, anti-woman measure that limits the freedom Florida women have in making medical decisions.”
The new abortion law follows media reports earlier this week that the number of abortions performed in Florida dropped by 10 percent between 2010 and 2014. However, that decrease is less than in other Republican-led states that have more aggressive restrictions on the procedure.
About 72,100 abortions were performed in Florida in 2014, a 9.8 percent dip from about 79,900 in 2010, according to state health records.
The abortion bill was one of 55 Scott signed into law Wednesday.
- Sober homes (HB 21), which requires the state Department Children and Families to create a voluntary certification program for recovery residences such as sober homes and halfway houses.
- A Public Service Commission reform law (HB 7109), which goes into effect July 1, that will limit future commission members to three consecutive four-year terms, require utilities to notify customers of the best available rates and prevent electric utilities from charging higher rates through extensions of billing cycles.
- The “Right to Try Act” (HB 269), which will let terminally ill patients starting July 1 have access to certain experimental drugs.
Meanwhile, Scott vetoed a single measure (HB 1305) on Wednesday that would have allowed physicians and chiropractors sell or rent electrostimulation medical equipment directly to patients without incurring license fees.
Scott said he agreed with the Legislature’s attempt to “remove burdensome regulations,” but he expressed concern that the bill would create “carve-outs,” which he said can create “additional levels of complexity to regulatory requirements” and “present an unfair advantage to certain entities competing within the same industry.”
The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this story.