Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, Dedicated Anti-Choicer, to Resign

Emily Douglas

Noted anti-choicer and global gag rule champion Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) will resign his Senate seat.

When President Obama repealed the global gag rule, during his first days in office, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) was behind the legislative effort to reinstate the ban on US foreign aid funding for family planning clinics abroad who provide abortions with their own funds.

His amendment was defeated by 60 votes, but it was an indication of how much grandstanding socially conservative elected officials still feel is required of them on reproductive health issues.

Now, the Miami Herald reports that Martinez will step down and not return to the Senate after the August recess.  Gov. Charlie Crist will select Martinez’s replacement, which could even be, the Herald notes, the governor himself.

Martinez has been the consistent recipient of "0" scores on NARAL Pro-Choice America’s and Planned Parenthood’s report cards. 

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News Abortion

Florida GOP Passes ‘Reckless’ Anti-Choice Omnibus Bill

Teddy Wilson

At least one Republican who voted in favor of the measure said she is concerned that the bill's language could become an issue in the courts.

Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature on Wednesday passed an omnibus anti-choice bill that would include targeted regulation of abortion providers.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), would create restrictions on abortion clinics, ban organizations that provide abortion care from receiving state Medicaid funds, and redefine the trimesters of pregnancy.

The bill was passed last Wednesday by the house 76 to 40, mostly along partisan lines, with two Democrats voting with the Republican majority in favor of HB 1411. Six Republicans voted with the Democratic minority against the bill.

The state senate also voted for final passage on Wednesday in a 25-15 vote, with one Republican joining the Democratic minority in opposing the omnibus bill.

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State Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) said during floor debate that she was opposed to the bill because it is intended to restrict access to reproductive health care, reported the News Service of Florida.

“This decision [to have an abortion] is personal for a woman, her family and her faith … a truly personal decision,” Sobel said. “Many women and men believe that the government has no right to interfere with this personal decision.”

While Republicans pushing abortion restrictions have often cited health and safety as the primary intention of anti-choice measures, state Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) said during the floor debate that he supported the bill because Floridians needed “to do everything that we can to not sanction murder,” reported the News Service of Florida.

The bill was amended in the house to include language stating that the goal of the bill is “to protect all human life by regulating the termination of pregnancies through the exercise of their right to self-government.”

State Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), who voted for the bill, told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill’s language could become an issue in the courts.

“Those clauses gave me concern that it would make it as though our intent was to close down all abortion clinics in the state,” Stargel said. “That was not the intent of this bill.”

Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement that the “reckless legislation” would leave thousands without access to birth control, cancer screenings, and other preventive health care, and could restrict access to legal abortion across the state.

Physicians who perform abortions at the clinic would be required to have admitting privileges at a hospital within “reasonable proximity” to the clinic. A similar admitting privileges requirement in Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law is at the center of the case recently heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill would require annual health department inspections of licensed abortion clinics. State officials, during each inspection, must review at least half of patient records generated since a clinic’s last inspection. The bill also mandates a prompt investigation of “credible allegations” of abortions being performed at unlicensed clinics.

“This bill says we’re going to treat abortion clinics the same way that we treat other similarly situated clinics,” state Sen. Stargel said during the floor debate, reported the Miami Herald.

The anti-choice law has a provision banning organizations that provide abortion services from participating in the state Medicaid program. Florida’s reproductive health-care clinics that provide HIV and STI testing, cancer screenings, and other types of preventive care receive about $200,000 annually through Medicaid, according to the Miami Herald.

“The idea that my taxpayer dollars, and my family’s taxpayer dollars and the taxpayer dollars of individuals who feel like we do about this issue … the idea that those taxpayer dollars would go to an organization that performs abortions, that is simply intolerable,” state Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) said during the floor debate, reported the News Service of Florida.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration claimed last year that three clinics were performing illegal abortions. The regulators alleged that the clinics provided abortion procedures that were past the first trimester of pregnancy, beyond the point at which the clinics were licensed to provide abortion care. The administration backed down from those charges.

HB 1411 would effectively redefine the first trimester as ending in the 11th week of pregnancy, not the 14th week, as is standard medical practice.

Michelle Richardson, director of public policy at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement that the bill is a politically motivated attack on reproductive rights. 

“The burdens placed on health care providers will be impossible for many clinics to meet, and will shutter clinics that provide a variety of health services, making it less and less possible for a Florida woman—especially if she is poor or works full-time—to access the health care she needs,” Richardson said.

State Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice), one of the Republicans who joined Democrats in opposing the legislation, said that state lawmakers should stop “nibbling around the edges” of abortion access, and compared the campaign against abortion to campaigns against smoking.

“Just because you took everybody’s ash trays away doesn’t mean they quit smoking,” Detert said, reported the Miami Herald. “Just because we make it more difficult for people to get an abortion or more expensive doesn’t mean that those people who want an abortion aren’t going to try to get one. They’ve done it historically for hundreds of years.”

Scott has yet to indicate whether he will sign the legislation. A spokesperson for the governor told the Associated Press that he will review the anti-choice legislation.

Scott must sign or veto legislation within 15 days after it is delivered to the governor’s office or it becomes law without his signature. The bill was delivered to the governor’s office on March 11.

News Law and Policy

Florida House Passes Two Anti-Choice Bills

Emily Crockett

The bills passed on Friday include one that would restrict access to later abortion in the state, and another bill that would make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

The Florida house passed two anti-choice bills on Friday, one that would restrict access to later abortion in the state, and another that would make it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

As the Herald Tribune reported last week, fewer abortion-related bills have been filed in Florida this year than in the past, and these two, the only ones currently moving, are less extreme than other anti-choice bills passing out of other conservative state houses lately. The caution Florida state legislators are showing on choice issues may be a political hedge to protect Gov. Rick Scott (R) from dealing with controversial legislation while he prepares for a tough fight at the polls this fall against Democrat Charlie Crist.

Nonetheless, both new bills are unnecessary and problematic, Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Rewire.

HB 1047, which would impose restrictions on later abortions, is “detrimental to women’s health as well as unconstitutional,” Allen said, because it doesn’t allow broad enough exceptions to protect the health of the pregnant woman. The new health exception now only covers “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” This would exclude numerous health issues, including psychological conditions, Allen said, and the Supreme Court has never defined health exceptions this narrowly.

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Florida law currently bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy, unless the life or health of the pregnant woman is threatened. In addition to narrowing that health exception, HB 1047 would also add a requirement for doctors to determine whether a fetus is viable (able to live outside the womb through “standard medical measures,” in the bill’s language), and forbid performing abortions on a viable fetus. If life or health reasons require an abortion after that point, two doctors have to certify in writing that this was the case, or one doctor has to certify that an additional doctor wasn’t available to consult.

“A health exception written in a constitutional manner doesn’t tie the doctor’s hands either,” Allen said.

Adding this viability requirement appears to be an attempt to restrict some abortions earlier than 24 weeks, the typical standard for viability. Anitere Flores (R-Miami), who sponsored a companion senate bill that is still in committee, said that viability could be determined as early as 20 weeks due to advanced technology.

Banning abortion after 20 weeks has been a major goal for anti-choice legislators and advocates. Several states, as well as the U.S. House, have either pushed for or passed such bans, several of which have been struck down as unconstitutional because they ban abortion at a specific point in time before viability.

Meanwhile HB 59, the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” has been introduced before in Florida but hasn’t passed. This year, however, emotional appeals from Remee Jo Lee, who lost a wanted pregnancy after her boyfriend slipped her abortion drugs, may have persuaded some lawmakers to move the bill forward, which would create a separate crime for killing or injuring a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.

While the new law would not in itself create “personhood,” or separate legal rights for fetuses, Allen said it would “raise the specter of personhood” in state law and could be exploited down the line by those wishing to restrict reproductive freedom.

“The bill is problematic in that it adds an additional victim to a crime when the answer is really to increase the sentence for the perpetrator of a crime against a pregnant woman,” Allen said.

Both bills now head to the senate for consideration.

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