Bush signs bill increasing regulation of abortion clinics
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 11:33 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill Tuesday increasing state oversight of abortion clinics that provide second-trimester abortions, saying he did so ''gladly, with pride and conviction.''
Bush said the new law wasn't related to his anti-abortion views but he later added that he was motivated, in part, by his desire ''to create a culture of life in our state.''
Based on a woman's right to choose, the U.S. Supreme Court has largely shielded first-trimester abortions from state regulation. Most of the nearly 85,000 abortions performed in Florida last year were done during the first trimester - or three months - of pregnancy.
States do have more leeway to regulate abortions later in a woman's pregnancy. Almost 9,000 of Florida's abortions are second-trimester abortions.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, will cover any abortion clinic that provides second-trimester abortions. The bill doesn't spell out the exact regulations but gives the state Agency for Health Care Administration directions on writing new rules covering a clinic's building, equipment and staffing, the procedure itself and post-abortion care. The agency is drafting regulations.
At least half of Florida's 65 abortion clinics provide both first and second trimester abortions, according to Stephanie Grutman, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Florida.
Clinics that provide only first-trimester abortions, like all nine of the Planned Parenthood clinics, will not be covered.
Grutman said her group opposed the bill ''because it puts big government restrictions on clinics and forces clinics that are already regulated to stop providing services.''
She questioned the intent of the law, which is officially named the ''Women's Health and Safety Act.''
''I think it's ironic that it's called the Women's Health and Safety Act and the only health care issue it addresses is abortion,'' Grutman said.
But Bush and other supporters said the new law will erase a double standard that now exists because abortion clinics are currently exempt from regulations that cover physician offices, hospitals and other surgical centers.
''This is a simple bill that says women are deserving of the same quality care when they go to a doctor's office or a hospital or, sadly, to an abortion clinic,'' Bush said. He said the new law did not trespass onto constitutionally protected abortion rights.
The clinic bill was the second abortion-related bill Bush has signed into law since the legislative session ended in early May. Last week he signed a measure that requires physicians to tell the parents of minors seeking abortions.
One supporter on hand for Tuesday's signing was Dr. Randy Armstrong, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Hillsborough County who provides emergency room coverage at University Community Hospital.
Armstrong, who does not perform abortions, said he has seen ''and continues to see'' the problems that result from lack of regulations of abortion clinics. In the last six months of 2004, nearly three dozen women were admitted into the hospital because of complications from second-trimester abortions.
Like Bush, state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said the bill was about quality health care for women, not placing restrictions on abortion rights. ''It was not pro-life or pro-choice, it was pro-woman,'' she said.
But Rep. Aaron Bean, who has sponsored the bill in the House for the last four years, said working out details was difficult.
The Fernandina Beach Republican thanked the governor, saying his staff was involved in working on the bill this year ''like never before.''
Sheila Hopkins, who monitored the bill in the Legislature for the Florida Catholic Conference, was one of the abortion opponents who attended the bill-signing Tuesday. She later said she thought most people would be surprised to learn that abortion clinics were largely shielded from regulation. Hopkins said some clinics already abide by industry standards and won't be affected by the new law. She also predicted that there would be an increase in complaints about the care provided in other clinics.
But Mona Reis, who directs an abortion clinic in West Palm Beach, said that the complication rate for abortion providers is extremely low. She defended the independent standards now in place in many clinics, and questioned the impact of some of the provisions of the new law. For instance, a requirement that clinics call patients within 24 hours is a violation of privacy, she said.
Thirty-three other states have laws requiring abortion clinic regulation, said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. She said the law reflects the political goals of abortion opponents, not the need for tighter regulations, she said.
''Abortion has an outstanding safety record,'' Saporta said.
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