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House votes for 'partial-birth' abortion ban

Gov. Bush says he will sign the bill. Opponents say they will take their fight to the courts once again.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Once again, the Florida Legislature has voted to ban a controversial abortion procedure.

Once again, opponents vow to overturn it in court.

The House voted 84-32 Wednesday to prohibit so-called "partial-birth" abortions and sent the bill to Gov. Jeb Bush, who says he will sign it into law.

A U.S. District Court judge in Miami overturned a similar ban on "partial-birth" abortions in 1998. It had been approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 1997 and vetoed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, but the Legislature overrode his veto.

photo
[AP photo]
Rep. Randy Ball, R-Mims, holds up surgical scissors during debate over abortion procedures.
Supporters of the ban, which include the Christian Coalition and the Florida Baptist Convention, praised legislators for not giving up.

"I think it's terrific," said Cathy Boyer, state director of Concerned Women for America.

The House vote comes one week after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments 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.

Abortion rights supporters unsuccessfully argued that the effective date of the legislation should be pushed back to Oct. 1 to give the court time to rule. The ban becomes effective as soon as Bush signs it into law.

"If we weren't speaking of five months but we were speaking of five babies instead of five months," Rep. Bob Starks, R-Casselberry, told abortion rights supporters, "would that make any difference?"

The bill's sponsors said the Nebraska law is significantly different from the Florida legislation and more specific than the previous ban that was overturned in federal court. Doctors who perform the procedure could face up to 15 years in prison, although the women could not be prosecuted.

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

With most legislators' minds made up long ago, the House limited debate on the proposal to about an hour. The opponents forced several votes on attempts to allow the procedure to still be used when the mother's health was at risk and failed each time.

"There is not one person in this room who believes it should be legal for anyone to kill a fetus outside the womb that is able to live," said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, an abortion rights supporter. "The purpose of this bill is to intimidate doctors."

The bill provides for an exemption only if the mother's life is endangered.

Charlene Carres, a Tallahassee lawyer involved in previous successful cases against abortion restrictions, said the new legislation remains as flawed as previous attempts to ban the procedure.

"The Legislature of Florida has just proven it does not care about the health of the women in this state," Carres said.

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