Florida Governor Signs New Abortion Bill

Late last month, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill which passed easily through the House. In the last issue of our newsletter, we provided information on what the new bill would entail -- slashed state funding for facilities providing preventative health care for low-income women, and additional stipulations for Florida's already existing restrictions to abortion.

The new restrictions included in the bill include requiring doctors at facilities providing abortion to have admitting privileges to hospitals, annual licensure inspections for clinics, and banning the purchase, sale or transfer of fetal remains. The law upgrades the failure to properly dispose of fetal tissue from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor -- the most serious classification of misdemeanor charges in Florida which can include up to a year in jail time and a $1000 fine.

It's important to note that in regards to the purchase, sale, or transfer of fetal remains, some women elect to donate fetal remains from their abortion procedure for medical research. In the uproar surrounding a heavily-edited video that portrayed a Planned Parenthood employee discussing the cost of fetal tissue donation, many legislators maligned and accused Planned Parenthood of profiting off of abortions. Multiple state investigations following, however, have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing and a grand jury in Texas instead indicted two members of the group who had produced the edited video against Planned Parenthood.

The new Florida bill mirrors the multitude of restriction bills that have been introduced, and some successfully passed, in several states all over the country. While the proponents of these restrictions bills, which have come to be nicknamed "TRAP" laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have introduced these bills with the argument that it is to create safer environments for women, those opposed to the restrictions have argued that they are unnecessary and are designed specifically with the intent of shutting down clinics that provide abortion services or other preventative health care for women by imposing undue requirements that are difficult or almost impossible to meet.

 The Supreme Court heard a case early last month, brought forward by a healthcare provider called Whole Women's Health in Texas, arguing against such restrictions laws that have closed down so many clinics all over the state, resulting in only a meager handful of facilities that are able to serve millions of women. Many news outlets and the people for or against the issue, see this case as the most important abortion-related Supreme Court case since Roe v. Wade. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Whole Women's Health, all laws with similar restrictions will be struck down everywhere. But if the Supreme Court rules against them, then these laws will stay in place and result in the shutting down of thousands of clinics serving women.

With the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's passing in February, and a Senate that has actively refused to take action on considering a new nominee to take his place -- the Supreme Court currently has 8 members serving to hear cases, rather than the required 9 that is needed to break ties. After hearing arguments in the case, the Supreme Court was deadlocked and Justice Kennedy suggested a stay, temporarily blocking an appeals court's ruling that would have upheld the current Texas laws. The Supreme Court are expected to issue a decision by June.

 One of the main questions brought up by the Justices was whether or not remaining clinics would have the capacity to fill the gaps in serving women if clinics providing preventive health care were shut down as a result of restrictions set by the new laws. In Florida, sponsors of the new restrictive law answered that question by providing a list of locations which they claimed would be able to pick up the slack in providing preventative health care to women -- a list made up of dentists, optometrists, and health clinics at elementary schools.

 Last year, a bill requiring women seeking abortion to undergo a mandatory 24-hour waiting period (thus necessitating two scheduled trips for an abortion procedure) passed and went into effect. The new bill and its restrictions to abortion and preventative healthcare, will go into effect on July 1.

Although it is estimated that 1-5% of sexual assaults may result in pregnancy, we know that sexual assault is already a crime that is heavily under-reported due to shame, fear, guilt, etc. The Sexual Violence Task Force of Tampa Bay supports and stands behind any decision that a survivor may make for her well-being and believes that all survivors should have access to all options in a safe, confidential, and trauma-informed setting.