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Legal concerns can't stop passion for abortion ban

The Senate again votes to end "partial-birth'' abortions, despite lingering constitutional questions.

By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Even while the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the constitutionality of a similar measure from Nebraska, the Florida Legislature wants to ban so-called "partial-birth" abortions in this state.

The Senate voted 30-10 Wednesday to prohibit the rarely used procedure despite arguments by abortion rights activists that the ban would be unconstitutional. The proposal now goes to the House, which is expected to approve it before the legislative session ends May 5.

The Florida Supreme Court overturned a similar ban on partial-birth abortions approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature three years ago. Gov. Lawton Chiles had vetoed it, but the Legislature overrode his veto in 1998.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday on whether a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortions violates the U.S. Constitution. A ruling in that case, which would apply nationwide, is expected this summer.

"Why not just wait until the Supreme Court makes its decision?" asked Sen. Patsy Ann Kurth, D-Malabar.

But one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Anna Cowin, a Leesburg Republican, said the Nebraska law is significantly different from the Florida legislation. She and other supporters of the bill defeated an effort to prevent the proposed ban from becoming law until Oct. 1.

All 25 Republicans in the Senate voted for the bill along with five Democrats, including Minority Leader Buddy Dyer of Orlando. All 10 senators who voted against the proposed ban were Democrats.

The legislation's supporters said few partial-birth abortions are performed in Florida and that other procedures can be used to terminate pregnancies. Sen. Charles Bronson, R-Satellite Beach, called the partial-birth abortions "one of the most hideous procedures devised by man."

"It is a grisly procedure, and it is a deliberate procedure," Cowin said, who represents part of Citrus County.

Opponents of the ban argued that it would violate the state Constitution's privacy clause. They said it would cost the state money to defend a law that they predicted would again be ruled unconstitutional.

"I think it is ridiculous," said Sen. Tom Rossin, D-West Palm Beach.

"I am really tired of passing bills out of this body that are unconstitutional," Rossin said.

The bill would outlaw the intentional killing of a "partially born living fetus," making it a second-degree felony. The legislation provides an exemption if a mother's life is at risk -- but not for her health, which was one of the constitutional problems cited by a Miami federal judge who found Florida's first law banning the procedure unconstitutional.

"Partial-birth abortion" is not a medical term. Doctors call the procedure dilation and extraction, or D&X.

The Senate bill says that women would not face criminal prosecution if they had a partial-birth abortion after the ban became law. But Anne Gannon, a lobbyist for the National Women's Political Caucus, said that is not good enough. The women's caucus opposes this ban just as they did the previous one.

"It's no better," she said.

Gov. Jeb Bush opposes "partial-birth abortions" but has not yet reviewed the legislation to decide whether he thinks it's constitutional, spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst said.

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

How they voted

The Senate voted 30-10 to ban so-called "partial-birth" abortions. Here is how area senators voted.

Citrus

Richard Mitchell, D Y

Anna P. Cowin, R Y

Hernando

Ginny Brown-Waite, R Y

Hillsborough

John Grant, R Y

Jim Sebesta, R Y

James Hargrett, D N

Tom Lee, R Y

Pasco

Brown-Waite, R Y

Grant, R Y

Jack Latvala, R Y

PinellasLatvala, R Y

Sebesta, R Y

Hargrett, D N

Don Sullivan, R Y

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