Florida Unborn Viability Act (HB 551)

This law was last updated on Oct 12, 2016


HB 551 contained multiple provisions restricting abortion, including a quasi-20-week abortion ban, informed consent provisions, and a quasi-conscience clause.

20-Week Abortion/Post-Viability Ban

HB 551 would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks. The bill would have also prohibited abortions after viability. The bill treated the two concepts as the same despite a medical consensus that a fetus does not become viable until 24 weeks.

The bill would have prohibited abortions when it was determined that the fetus was viable, unless two physicians certified in writing that an abortion was necessary to prevent the death of the patient or to reduce the likelihood of successful treatment of an already life-threatening disease, or a doctor certified in writing that a medical emergency existed and another doctor was not available for consultation prior to termination of the pregnancy.

To determine viability, a physician would have been required to perform an ultrasound on any patient who was 20 weeks or more pregnant. The bill provided that the ultrasound and determination of viability may not have been performed by a physician or other person who provided reproductive health services at an abortion clinic.

The bill defined viability as “that stage of fetal development when, in the judgment of the physician, based on the particular facts of the case before him or her and in light of the most advanced medical technology and information available, there is a reasonable probability of sustained survival of the unborn human person outside his or her mother’s womb with or without artificial support.”

That the bill would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks and after a determination of viability seems to be an attempt to roll back the point of viability to 20 weeks. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that a fetus does not become viable until after 24 weeks.

The bill would have prohibited anyone not a physician from performing an abortion and would have required that abortions be performed in a hospital or other medical establishment.

Informed Consent

The bill stated that a physician may not perform an abortion with the voluntary and written informed consent of the patient, court-appointed guardian of a mentally-incompetent patient, or a minor’s parent or legal guardian. The physician must have personally informed the patient or the patient’s guardian of the following:

  • The nature and risks of undergoing or not undergoing the proposed procedure;
  • The probable gestational age of the fetus;
  • The medical risks to the patient and fetus of carrying the pregnancy to term;
  • All other factors, including physical, emotional, psychological, and familial factors, relevant to the short-term and long-term well-being of the patient, including the emotional and psychological impact relating to the loss of human life through voluntary termination of the pregnancy.

The bill stated that a physician performing an abortion must have provided to patients or their guardians printed materials prepared by the Florida Department of Health which includes:

  • An accurate estimate of the stage of biological development, gestational age, length, weight, and viability of the unborn human person;
  • A list of agencies that offer alternatives to terminating the pregnancy; and
  • Detailed information on the availability of medical assistance benefits for prenatal care, childbirth, and neonatal care.

The bill would have also required physicians performing an abortion to provide patients or their guardians with information regarding adoption and a statewide list of attorneys available to provide volunteer legal services for adoption.

Penalty

A violation of the above provisions of this bill would have been a felony, and the maximum penalty would be life in prison.

Quasi-Conscience Clause

The bill would have allowed health-care providers and institutions to refuse to participate in terminating a pregnancy and would have  immunized them from liability for the refusal. The bill would have also prevented any kind of disciplinary action or recrimination against a person based on their refusal. This provision mirrors conscience clauses that have been introduced in other states (Pennsylvania, for example) although the bill does not tie the refusal to provide an abortion to conscience.

Insurance Coverage Ban

The bill would have amended the restriction on use of public funds for abortion to remove the exception for rape, incest, and health of the mother. If passed, Florida law would have prohibited public funds for abortion without exception.

STATUS

Companion bill to SB 1602. Referred to House Judiciary Committee and Health and Human Services Committee.


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