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Tie vote kills ultrasound abortion bill in Senate


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TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—In a 20-20 tie vote, the Florida Senate defeated April 30 a bill requiring women seeking an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy to have an ultrasound.

The unusual result, eliciting gasps from opponents and supporters when the vote was announced, came after an emotional debate which lasted almost 90 minutes, following two previous discussions about the bill by senators.

Final consideration was delayed several times as behind-the-scenes lobbying targeted a few wavering senators.

Only a few hours after defeating the bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden), the Senate honored the retiring senator in a farewell ceremony in which several senators who led the opposition to his bill heaped praise on Webster for his character.

The bill, SB 2400, was opposed by seven Republican senators: Jim King (Jacksonville), Burt Saunders (Naples), Dennis Jones (Seminole), Mike Bennett (Bradenton), Paula Dockery (Lakeland), Lisa Carlton (Sarasota) and Evelyn Lynn (Daytona Beach).

One Democrat, Gary Siplin from Orlando, voted for the measure.

Florida Baptist Convention legislative consultant Bill Bunkley told the Witness the close defeat was “very painful.”

“In my many years of working Tallahassee, only the Terri Schiavo vote was more dramatic,” Bunkley said.

Current law already requires an ultrasound before an abortion in the second and third trimester of pregnancy, and Webster’s bill included an opt-out provision allowing women and girls to decline to view the image.

In passionate closing comments by Webster in the atypically still chamber, the longtime member of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando implored senators to allow women considering an abortion to have access to the ultrasound image in the hope that some women may decide to keep their unborn child.

Webster told the story of University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow whose mother twice declined doctors’ advice to abort him due to feared birth defects.

Tebow, who recently visited the Legislature to be honored as Heisman Trophy winner, illustrates that doctors are not “infallible,” Webster said.

“There may be other Timmy Tebows that if just the mom could just see the ultrasound—that’s all we’re doing, we’re offering information that doesn’t exist today and is not shown today. That’s all we want. And maybe there’ll be one more Timmy Tebow who grows up to become quite a man,” he said.

Webster strongly rejected the claim of some senators that his bill interfered with the doctor-patient relationship.

“This is not her physician. Come on! A patient-physician relationship that gets done in about 15 minutes—she will see this person one time. She’ll meet him when he walks through the door. She won’t ever see him again, probably. That’s a relationship?” he asked.

Explaining the bill would simply add one more item in a checklist abortion clinics must go over with patients, Webster said, “And I don’t understand why that’s such a restrictive measure, because if you remember, good medical practice dictates screening. That’s what we require.”

Moderate Republican senators played a prominent role debating against the measure.

Jim King, who had publicly lobbied against the bill for weeks, told the Senate, “I’m really sorry that we’re here now doing this.”

Echoed later by other male and female senators, King said men should not create public policy related to abortion.

“My personal feeling is unless you ovulate or have ovulated we have no business as males interfering with your female decision on reproduction,” said the former president of the Florida Senate.

He joined the Republican Party many years ago because it stood for “less government, more freedom,” King said. “But folks, this is not less government. This is more government. It’s government intrusion.”

Burt Saunders said he had three concerns about the bill—impact on the poor; affect on victims of rape, incest and trafficking; and impact on the doctor-patient relationship. Without declaring how he would vote, Saunders said he wanted to hear Webster’s response to those concerns in his closing comments.

Saunders invoked the Senate’s 2005 debate about Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who Webster sponsored legislation to try to save, only to have it defeated by a similar coalition of moderate Republican senators.

Although he said there isn’t “really any relationship between this matter and the Terri Schiavo matter,” he also said, “I think in some respects this is very similar.”

As long as Roe v. Wade is the “law of the land” providing a constitutional right to abortion, “it’s a mistake for the Legislature to start talking about ways to restrict that when it comes to the doctor-patient relationship,” Saunders said.

Dennis Jones told senators the Florida constitution gave citizens the right to privacy, asking, “My Lord, you look at this bill, where did that right to privacy go?”

Citing her sponsorship of parental notice and abortion clinic regulation bills, Paula Dockery told senators that she was a “very proud pro-life woman,” but opposed the bill.

“This is the United States of America,” Dockery said. “We talk about freedom, but little by little we give our freedoms away. This is not a pro-life or pro-choice issue. This is a freedom issue and we should not be telling the women of the state of Florida what they need to do with their bodies.”

Appealing to the theoretical case of a terrified college girl impregnated at a “wild frat party,” Mike Bennett said pro-life Republicans could join him in voting to “kill this bill” because “it’s about an unfunded medical mandate that interferes with a woman’s choice.”

Joining the moderate Republicans against the bill was every Democrat senator, except Siplin.

Dave Aaronberg (D-Greenacres) said that although there are no biblical passages that explicitly address abortion, there are 178 dealing with the poor, urging senators, “Don’t turn your back on poor women.”

Nan Rich (D-Sunrise) said, “I actually consider myself pro-life, though I’m pro-choice,” and opposed the bill because it’s “probably” an unconstitutional burden on women’s right to abortion.

“Personally, I believe this is blatant government interference and it’s insulting to women who should be the ones responsible for making decisions with their lives and their bodies,” she said.

Republicans who spoke in favor of the bill included Steve Oelrich (Gainesville), Ronda Storms (Brandon), and Alex Diaz de la Portilla (Miami).

Oelrich urged senators not to forget the unborn: “I’m telling you that the unborn is in there squirming, and so are we.”

Referring to comments by Sen. Rich, Storms said she was also pro-life and pro-choice.

“This bill is a pro-choice bill. It gives the women the choice for informed consent so that she can choose whether to see that ultrasound or not…. This empowers the woman to make her own health decisions.”

Storms said opponents were fearful of how women will respond to seeing their unborn child in an ultrasound.

“What is it that we might be afraid of? … Oh, I don’t know, could it be that in the ultrasound that she might see the baby, the unborn, putting his thumb to his mouth and sucking his thumb before she has the abortion? Could that be what we’re afraid of— so we think she won’t have it? When is it good for her to see that, after she’s had one or two abortions?”

Diaz de la Portilla told senators it was their duty to sometimes make difficult, uncomfortable decisions.

Saying that he hopes the bill could reduce Florida’s 95,000 annual abortions, de la Portilla added, “If this bill would eliminate just one abortion in this state, it would make me proud.”

The Florida House of Representatives approved a similar ultrasound bill, HB 257, on April 2, although it also contained other pro-life measures.