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    Bills seek new abortion clinic regulations

    Clinics would face new requirements, and doctors would face more paperwork. Critics say it's an attack on legal abortion.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 1, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- In recent years, abortion opponents have made little headway trying to change Florida law to make it harder for a woman to terminate her pregnancy.

    Every abortion-related law has ended up in court, and some have been struck down.

    This year, a group of 20 conservative lawmakers is trying again. A bill headed for the floor of the House of Representatives seeks to tighten regulations of abortion clinics. The clinics say the move is a veiled assault on legal abortions.

    Republican Rep. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey said the goal is to make abortion clinics meet the same standards that outpatient surgery centers now meet. Few rules govern abortion clinics. The rules for outpatient surgery centers, on the other hand, include a host of strict requirements for surgical staff, office size, air ventilation systems and emergency equipment, among other things.

    The bill also would make doctors who perform abortions do a lot more paperwork. Under today's law, doctors have to file a monthly report on how many abortions they performed. The new law would make doctors file a report every time they perform an abortion. If they don't, they would face a $200 fine.

    Proponents argue that abortion clinics have little regulatory oversight, compared with other facilities that perform medical procedures.

    "This is a health and safety issue," Fasano said at a committee meeting this week. "It is not pro-life or pro-choice or whatever you want to call it."

    Abortion clinics don't even have to report when something goes wrong, Fasano said.

    Opponents say records at the state Agency for Health Care Administration show little evidence that abortion clinics are poorly operated. Since 1994, AHCA has fielded an average of seven complaints about abortion clinics a year; most were not investigated.

    "We're talking about 58 complaints in eight years, and only four were found to have merit. What problem are we fixing?" argued Carolyn Pardue, a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

    Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, points out that anti-abortion groups have tried to tinker with state regulations on clinics for a dozen years without much success. "This is an attempt to put abortion clinics out of business and drive up the cost of abortions," Gannon said.

    The Legislature tried to put more stringent regulations on abortion clinics in 1980. Two years later, a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the law, saying the state couldn't single out abortion clinics from other medical facilities.

    The new bill might run into the same legal problems: An analysis by legislative staffers notes that it "may raise constitutional concerns."

    Other abortion laws have run into problems in the courts.

    When the Republicans took over the House and the Senate in 1997, the Legislature passed a flurry of abortion laws. All are still being litigated. They include 1997's "Woman's Right to Know" law, which required doctors to counsel women and hand out pamphlets listing alternatives to abortion; and 1999's ban on so-called late-term "partial-birth' abortions. Pro-choice proponents also regard 1999's "Choose Life" specialty license plate tag, which raises funds for agencies promoting adoption, as a thinly disguised anti-abortion message.

    On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a legal challenge to the 1999 parental notification law, which would require that a minor's parents be notified when she seeks an abortion.

    Even though a majority of House members oppose abortion, the new bill didn't fly through a key committee last week. Initially, it died on an 8-8 vote. Republican Majority Leader Jerry Maygarden joined the committee briefly and the bill passed 9-8.

    An identical bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Anna Cowin of Leesburg, hasn't been heard by a single committee.

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