Senate passes controversial ultrasound amendment

From the Sun-Sentinel 

Senate passes ultrasound abortion mandate, 22-17

With two days left in the legislative session, the Republican-held Florida Senate passed a controversial amedment 22-17 requiring women who are seeking abortions to pay for ultrasound exams, using legislative manuevering to deliver an election-year victory to religious conservatives.

The ultrasound requirement would apply to first-trimester abortions, when more than 90 percent of abortions in Florida occur. Ultrasounds are already required in late-term abortions that occur after the first trimester.

Women could refuse to view the ultrasound image after filling out a form. Exceptions to the ultrasound requirement are provided to victms of rape, incest and domestic violence -- but they would have to provide proof.

“It’s actually, to me, the ultimate insult to women,” said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. “It’s saying women can’t make up their own minds, can’t use their own judgment, as to what they want to do with their bodies. The Legislature is making a medical decision for women.”

Supporters noted the decision to have an abortion is very serious and said the ultrasound mandate would simply provide women with more information.

“What we’re talking about is not an appendectomy, we’re not talking about cancer treatment,” said Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville. “What we’re talking about is ending a human life.”

The ultrasound mandate never got a vote – or even a hearing – in a single committee in either the House or Senate in the 2010 legislative session, which ends Friday. The amendment was tacked on to an otherwise innocuous bill dealing with drug-free workplaces by Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

Now, the ultrasound mandate moves to the House, which is deeply conservative and has favored abortion restrictions for years. Gov. Charlie Crist could veto it or sign it into law.

The ultrasound vote shows how far the state Senate, once a moderate chamber, has swung to the right. In 2008, the ultrasound bill died on a dramatic, 20-20 vote. Three centrist Republicans who voted against the ultrasound bill in 2008 -- Jim King, Lisa Carlton and Burt Saunders -- are now gone.

Ironically, senators put another amendment on the same bill that says government can’t compel Floridians to purchase health services. Senators did just that with the ultrasound requirement, but supporters said the ultrasound mandate wouldn’t count because abortion is an optional procedure.

Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, called the ultrasound requirement an “assault on the poor,” noting they’d have to pay for the ultrasound exams.

“This imposes an unfunded mandate on the poorest women of our state. How can you justify that?” Aronberg asked.

In 2006, there were 95,586 abortions performed in Florida. Of those, 86,938 occurred in the first three months of pregnancy that now would be subject to the ultrasound mandate.

The 40-member Senate includes 31 men and nine women. The only female senator to vote for the ultrasound requirement was Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.

“To you ladies, I really respect your point of view,” said Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami. “However, I just don’t see the problem with having somebody have a little bit more information before they make a decision.”


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