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House Sends Controversial Abortion Bill to Crist

Florida would join a handful of other states that require a woman to have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion following a vote by the House Friday that sends the Republican-led measure to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Debated for more than four hours on the last day of session, the bill would require most women to hear about the ultrasound as the doctor is performing it, and would force doctors to offer the woman a chance to look at it, though she'd have the right to decline. All women would have to pay for the procedure regardless of their ability to afford it, leading opponents to say it would keep poor women from seeking abortions.

Backers of the measure say it’s an attempt to give women more information on which to make the choice of whether to terminate their pregnancy.

“All we’re asking in this bill is that woman have all the facts,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who said as a pregnant teen she chose to keep her baby after seeing an ultrasound. “If you have an ultrasound it shows you what the facts are: That this is a baby. This is how the heart beats. This is not a tadpole. It has arms, it has legs and it has a face.”

Critics said that rationale was at best secondary. Instead, opponents said the Republican-led effort was yet another attempt to put hurdles in front of women seeking to end their pregnancies.

“Isn’t this just a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from having an abortion,” asked Rep. Richard Steinberg, D-Miami Beach.

The abortion provision was added as an amendment to a wide-ranging and mostly non-controversial health care bill. The issue had already prompted hours of debate in the Senate where the amendment was adopted along a largely party line vote.

Also tacked on to the bill by the Senate in the final week of session was another controversial abortion measure, a ban on government money going to pay for abortions.

At least 14 states have passed laws requiring abortion providers to offer or perform ultrasounds. Four states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma require the procedure before an abortion is performed.

House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, ordered House pages out of the chamber, and suggested parents watching the House with their children might also leave, saying the debate was too sensitive for the young ears.

Supporters likened abortion to the Holocaust while critics said the measure was simply a politically motivated effort to give conservative voters some “red meat.”

Democrats didn't even wait for the bill to pass to begin talking about a possible veto by the newly independent Crist. A few of them predicted during floor debate that the governor may reject the idea.

“It is wrong to involve the state in the most personal of decisions regarding a woman’s right to choose,” said Sen. Dan Gelber D-Miami Beach. “Floridians expect us to be involved in their struggle to find jobs, and keep their communities safe, and this measure is just wrong."

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