Abortion Appeals Swamp Crist's Office
Around the State
Florida Right to Life calls it "the most significant piece of pro-life legislation ever passed in Florida's history."
The American Civil Liberties Union says, "Here we go again. This legislation puts lawmakers in the exam room, during the most fragile point in any woman’s life, and takes the medical decision away from her and her doctor."
Gov. Charlie Crist's office is being inundated by phone calls and e-mails from pro-life and pro-choice groups urging him to sign or veto House Bill 1143. The so-called "ultrasound bill" would, with certain exceptions, require women seeking abortions to view an ultrasound of the fetus.
The fierce lobbying effort underway has the potential to rival the deluge of calls and correspondence Crist received on Senate Bill 6, the teacher performance-pay measure, which he vetoed.
As of Tuesday night, 17,028 calls and e-mails had been received in support of HB 1143, according to Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey. Opposing messages numbered 10,003.
By comparison, SB 6 generated a total of 106,601 appeals, with 103,232 of those in opposition.
"HB 1143 hasn't quite reached the volume of SB 6, but given that we have not even received the bill yet, and the governor will have 15 days to take action on it once he receives it, HB 1143 does have the potential to eclipse the SB 6 numbers," Ivey said.
Proponents and opponents of the ultrasound bill say they will keep the pressure on the governor, who calls himself "pro-life," but has expressed reservations about the measure.
Last week, he told the Tampa Tribune editorial board that the bill was "mean-spirited."
"To have your government impose on you, listen to a lecture, then on top of that, you have to pay for it?" Crist asked.
Advocates for HB 1143 say the bill has been mischaracterized by the media.
The measure does not require an ultrasound viewing in cases of rape, incest or domestic violence if the woman shows a restraining order. A woman can also sign a waiver from viewing.
Most abortion centers typically use an ultrasound before an abortion to determine the age of the fetus.
Critics argue that HB 1443 will effectively restrict abortions by requiring women to pay an additional $100 charge for an ultrasound, adding to the customary $300-$400 charge for the procedure.
The bill also restricts abortion coverage in the state’s insurance exchange.
There were 95,586 abortions performed in Florida in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available.
To highlight their concerns, the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion provider, are urging Floridians to contact the governor's office.
Local affiliates of Planned Parenthood staged demonstrations in West Palm Beach, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Tallahassee last week.
"It's bad legislation," said Sue Idtensohn, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando. "It's mandating something that doctors and their patients should decide on their own. What other medical procedure would lawmakers try to force people to undergo?"
State Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, who co-sponsored HB 1143, said Crist's critical comments about the bill were "clearly political."
As an independent U.S. Senate candidate, Crist needs to peel off Democratic votes while holding onto moderate Republicans if he hopes to prevail in a three-way race this fall.
State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has said Crist would be "crazy" not to veto the bill, and Florida State University professor Lance Dehaven-Smith is inclined to agree.
"Signing (HB 1143) would put his candidacy in great jeopardy. He has to attract Democrats. Particularly, he has to penetrate the liberal Democrats in South Florida," said Dehaven-Smith, a professor of public administration.
Though the measure passed the House by 76-44 and the Senate by 23-16, those margins are not enough to survive a veto, which requires a two-thirds majority to override.
Still, supporters of the ultrasound bill say Crist must be mindful of opinion polls that show strong opposition to public funding of abortions. A December 2009 Quinnipiac survey found that 72 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions.
Groups ranging from the Florida Family Policy Council and the Christian Coalition to the Florida Catholic Conference and the Florida Baptist Convention say they will keep those kinds of statistics ringing in Crist's ears through e-mail and phone-call campaigns.
Sheila Hopkins, associate director of the Florida Catholic Conference, said her group sent notices promoting HB 1143 to the state's 500 Catholic churches to include in their weekly bulletins for parishioners.
The organization's website has posted supportive letters from four bishops and lets members "click to take action." Catholics in Florida number almost 4 million -- roughly one-quarter of the state's population.
Hopkins said that when HB 1143 hits the governor's desk, the Conference will renew its call for action.
Meantime, the Florida ACLU continues to blast away at the Republican-dominated Legislature -- a theme that resonates with Crist's newfound independence.
“These Tallahassee politicians claim adherence to the concept of limited government. Can you spell ‘hypocrisy’? Apparently in Florida you don’t need a license to practice medicine, you just need to get elected to the Florida Legislature," said Executive Director Howard Simon.
John Stemberger, head of Florida Family Policy Council, said his group is zeroing in on the fiscal impact of the legislation.
"It's not just about ultrasound. It's about federal and state funding. This bill aims at the Obama health-care plan, which would require public funding of abortions. This bill preempts that from occurring," the Orlando attorney said.
The bill specifically declares that the public policy of Florida is that a federal, state, or local government may not compel a person to purchase health insurance or health services.
Noting the national polling numbers against taxpayer-funded abortions, Stemberger speculates that "those numbers are even higher in Florida," and he said the Family Policy Council is using its 100,000-strong mailing list to press its case.
"(Crist) says he's the governor of the people. The people overwhelmingly support this bill," Stemberger said.
Whether it's genuine philosophical conflict or crass political calculation, Crist says he will take most or all of the 15 days allotted to him to make a decision on HB 1143 once it reaches his desk.
"Trying to gain more wisdom," the governor told the Tribune editorial board last week. "I've got 15 days. I'm going to use them."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 559-4719.