A Senate panel approved stricter regulations on abortion clinics Tuesday, with supporters arguing it would improve patient safety while opponents condemning the measure as aimed only at limiting women’s access to the procedure.
A key piece of the legislation (SB 1722) is included in a Texas law set to be reviewed this week by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas enacted a law in 2013 that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — a provision also included in the bill advanced Monday by the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. In Texas, roughly half the state’s 40 abortion clinics closed because of the tougher standards.
“This is a woman’s health issue,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, sponsor of the Senate proposal. “We’re making sure that women are being treated the same.”
But Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, said the goal of the legislation is to limit abortion rights.
“It just seems to be a way to restrict access to women’s health care, and that’s not something I have any interest in taking part in,” said Clemens.
The measure cleared the Republican-dominated Senate panel on a 6-2 vote. A similar bill (HB 1411) is poised for a full vote in the House.
“What we’re seeing both in Florida and across the country is that politicians are using women’s health as a political issue — and it shouldn’t be a political issue,” said Missy Wesolowski with the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which run 16 clinics in the state that provide abortion services.
Wesolowski said abortion is a “safe and legal” medical procedure and shouldn’t be subject to stricter regulations.
Stargel, however, argued that the doctor admitting privileges or hospital transfer requirements mirror those of outpatient centers that provide such routine procedures as colonoscopies. Wesolowski said that standard under current Florida law is applied only to clinics which perform second-trimester abortions.
More than 90 percent of abortions currently occur in the first-trimester of pregnancy, according to state records.
Along with the hospital provisions, Stargel’s bill also requires that clinics be inspected annually and have at least 50 percent of their records reviewed to have their license renewed. The legislation also could restrict some reproductive clinics – namely those run by Planned Parenthood – from accessing state Medicaid funds.
The Legislature’s focus on abortion has been a steady theme in the 20 years Republicans have controlled the House and Senate.
A measure signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott requires women to wait 24 hours and make a second trip to a clinic before having an abortion. But it has been blocked by a court order and is still not in effect.
In the last big election year, 2014, Scott also signed measures that allow separate criminal charges for the death of a fetus, no matter its stage of development, when a crime was committed against its mother.
Another measure that year effectively reduced by several weeks the time period that a woman could legally have a late-term abortion.
For his part, Scott also confronted Planned Parenthood last year after disputed videos posted online appeared to show staff in California discussing fetal tissue and organ donation.
Scott ordered an investigation of every Planned Parenthood clinic in Florida, but found no evidence of a fetal organ donation program.
Scott’s Agency for Health Care Administration cited three clinics alleging they performed abortions outside the scope of their licenses, but the state’s claim has been legally challenged by the organization.