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Fla. Passes Bill Requiring Viability Test, Restricting Medically Needed Abortions

April 28, 2014 — A Florida bill (HB 1047) that would redefine fetal viability and increase restrictions on medically necessary abortions has passed the state's Legislature and now heads to Gov. Rick Scott (R) for consideration, the AP/Tallahassee Democrat reports (Miller, AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/26).

Bill Details

Florida law currently prohibits abortions after 24 weeks, or if a fetus is deemed "viable," defined as when a fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving outside of the womb.

The bill would change the definition of viable to mean that a fetus could survive outside of the womb with medical assistance. It also would require physicians to determine if a fetus is viable before an abortion.

The bill also would add new restrictions on abortions in the third trimester, which currently are only permitted to save a woman's life or preserve her health. Under the bill, an abortion in the third trimester would only be permitted to save a woman's life "or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition." This restriction would also apply to post-viability abortions (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/9).

Prospects, Implications

Scott's office did not indicate whether he would sign the bill but noted that he opposes abortion rights.

According to the Miami Herald, the bill would not affect the majority of abortion patients. No third-trimester abortions were performed in Florida in 2013, and fewer than 9% of the 71,503 abortions in the state last year occurred in the second trimester, according to the state Health Department (Mitchell, Miami Herald, 4/25).

Comments

Democrats heavily opposed the bill throughout the legislative process.

State Rep. Elaine Schwartz (D) criticized the removal of psychological issues as reason for needing a medically necessary abortion, saying that mental health conditions are "as much a part of the mother's health as anything" (AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/26).

In addition, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida Vice President of Medical Affairs Sujatha Prabhakaran in a statement said the "bill attempts to insert politics into a deeply personal and complex decision that should be left to a woman, her family, her faith and her doctor," adding that "it would impose barriers on Florida women without regard for the unique circumstances that each woman may face during pregnancy."

However, state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R) said the measure would not ban abortions, just require women to make the decision to have the procedure earlier (Miami Herald, 4/25).