In a dramatic wrap-up to this year’s legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed a health care bill that makes Florida the fourth state to opt out of the national health care bill’s abortion-mandate, guaranteeing that insurance plans that cover abortions and participate in the state’s new health care exchange cannot receive tax dollars. The bill also requires abortionists to give their patients an ultrasound before performing an abortion, a provision which generated vociferous debate in the House, before it was passed.
The Florida House passed HB 1143, a health care appropriations bill, on Friday after consideration of the bill was temporarily delayed when Democrats boycotted Thursday’s session over the inclusion of the ultrasound amendment. Democrats stalled consideration of the bill with procedural tactics by denying Republicans the two-thirds majority required to bring a bill to the floor.
The chamber finally got down to business Friday, the very last day of the session, after Democrats were unable to draw any concessions out of the tactic, but then waged a grueling four-hour debate in the GOP-controlled House largely over the ultrasound requirement. Lawmakers then approved the bill with 76 votes in favor to 44 against, mostly along party lines. The Senate had approved the bill on Thursday, also along party lines.
The abortion mandate opt-out legislation included in the bill was the legislative brain-child of Americans United for Life, a pro-life public-interest law and policy organization in the United States. AUL developed draft legislation for states to exploit a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Sec. 1303), which explicitly allows the state-run health insurance exchanges to prohibit public funds from subsidizing health insurance companies that offer co-pays for abortion.
So far three other states have enacted similar laws – Arizona, Tennessee, and Mississippi – and AUL is coordinating efforts with elected leaders and groups in 28 other states to do the same.
“The right to life is fundamental to all that we do, and this ensures that taxpayer dollars are not hijacked to fund abortions,” said Florida State Representative Matthew Gaetz, who praised AUL “for helping to make this a reality.”
However, the bitterest battle in the legislature was fought over the provision requiring abortionists to give women an ultrasound of their unborn baby as part of a process to guarantee that a woman is giving “voluntary and informed written consent” to an abortion. The provision also states that whoever performs the ultrasound must explain in real-time the images before the woman can give her written consent.
The law, however, does allow women to opt-out. Victims of rape, incest, domestic violence, human trafficking, or those who are facing immediate bodily impairment of a major organ can forgo the ultrasound, so long as they present a court order, medical records, police records, or other legal or medical documentation verifying their condition.
Other women can also opt out of viewing the ultrasound, but must sign a form saying they were first informed of their right to view the ultrasound and were doing so without coercion from any third party.
Pro-life and pro-abortion lawmakers battled on the House floor for four hours over the amendment. At one point the debate became so emotional and intense that GOP House Speaker Larry Cretul excused House pages from the floor and encouraged parents sitting in the gallery to withdraw from the chamber if they had brought along their children.
The bill now goes to Florida Governor Charlie Crist for signature. Crist has not indicated what his intentions for the bill are.
However, Crist’s recent decision to bolt the GOP and run for Senate as an independent may mean that he will be under pressure to veto the bill in order to make himself a more attractive candidate than the pro-life and fiscal conservative Republican Marco Rubio.
“He has some concern with the bill,” Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey told the Associated Press. “(He) wants to review it when it reaches his desk.”
See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:
More U.S. Pro-Life Gains on the Horizon with State Opt-Out of Abortion Mandate
Group has heard from people in all 50 states asking how they can lobby lawmakers to take a look at opt-out bill
Tennessee House Strikes Blow to ObamaCare Abortion Coverage
States Consider Legislative Plan to Opt-Out of ObamaCare’s Abortion Mandate