NAPLES — Abortion-rights advocates are outraged by the Florida legislation that would mandate women get an ultrasound before an abortion, saying it is an intrusion between women and their doctors.
Abortion opponents say the bill is long overdue in making sure women make an informed decision before undertaking the life-changing event.
In the end, Gov. Charlie Crist has the final say. Some wonder whether Crist will continue his moderate streak that saw him veto a Republican-backed teacher merit pay bill and decide to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate.
“The fact that our lawmakers have taken the responsible position to mandate that the abortion provider provide the information, the technology, should be applauded by all responsible parties,” said Dan Steiner, executive director of Pregnancy Resource Center, which provides a range of services, including ultrasounds, to women in Collier and Lee counties as an alternative to abortion.
“I cannot comprehend why any lucid individual would have any desire to withhold medical facts from a woman who wants to make a fully informed decision. Therefore, the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southwest Florida heartily applauds this decision,” he said.
Once a bill reaches his desk, Crist has 15 days to decide whether to veto or sign it into law, and he will face extensive lobbying on both sides of the abortion debate in hopes of influencing his decision on HB 1143.
Besides requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before she can have an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, the measure requires she listen to a medical provider talk about the ultrasound and listen to information about the fetus. A woman can decline to view the ultrasound if she signs a form that she is not been coerced into having an abortion.
Florida already has a law on the books that requires an ultrasound before a woman can get an abortion after the first trimester.
In 2008, there were 86,000 abortions in Florida, and 92 percent of them were first trimester pregnancies, said Stephanie Kunkel, spokeswoman for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. An ultrasound ranges in cost but generally runs $100 to $300, she said.
The alliance of Planned Parenthood is gearing up to fight the legislation and is in the early stages of mobilizing, she said.
“This is just adding on more hardship and burden to make an already difficult procedure even more difficult,” Kunkel said.
The legislation also prohibits health plans from covering abortions if the plans receive federal or state subsidies in insurance exchanges under the recent federal health reform, and the same applies to businesses if they receive tax credits under the federal legislation, Kunkel said. About 86 percent of health insurance in the state is employee-based, she said.
“We are talking about thousands and thousands of women will lose their health insurance (for abortions),” she said. “Nobody plans to have an unwanted pregnancy, that is the point of having abortion coverage in your plan.”
The measure does allow for abortion coverage in the case of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at risk but it does not allow for coverage when there is a fetal anomaly, she said. Most problems with the fetus are detected in the second trimester.
Patricia Bucalo, an abortion opponent in Naples who takes part in prayer demonstrations outside of Planned Parenthood of Collier County, said the ultrasound requirement is necessary for a woman to be fully informed of what she is considering. The local Planned Parenthood started offering abortions last August.
“She is about to do something that will change her life forever,” Bucalo said, adding that crisis centers have known for years that many women who plan to have an abortion change their mind when they see an ultrasound of their baby.
“Ninety-five percent of women ultimately change their mind,” she said. “It’s astonishing, so it does make an enormous difference to women. And women who regret their abortion almost invariably say, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me what I was about to do?’ This is so critical to women’s full understanding.”
Neither side of the abortion debate have a sense on how Crist will act once the bill hits his desk.
“He has never in his role as governor had to veto or sign into law (something) that restricts access,” Kunkel, of the Planned Parenthood alliance, said. “We just don’t know how he stands on this.”
Jo An Carter, an abortion opponent in Naples, said the ultrasound provision tells the truth of what is happening when a woman is pregnant and considering abortion.
“What better way than to have a picture of her unborn child,” she said, adding that she has though a lot of what Crist may do with the bill.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he refused to sign it,” she said.
Steiner, of Pregnancy Resource Center, said Crist should sign it.
“He has a moral obligation to the unborn citizens of our state to sign the bill,” Steiner said.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman