By Rochelle Koff
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Wednesday requiring that doctors performing an abortion offer emergency medical care if the baby is somehow born alive.
Scott was joined by his wife Ann and antiabortion activists from around the state as he signed HB 1129 at the Florida Baptist Children's Home's Pensacola campus in Cantonment, a nonprofit organization that supports pregnancy resource centers and provides services for children who are neglected, abused or abandoned.
"As a father and grandfather, there is nothing more precious or special than welcoming a new child into this world and by signing this bill, we are protecting the most vulnerable among us and affirming their rights as individuals," Scott said. "This legislation ensures common-sense measures are taken to help care for the babies who survive abortion procedures and grants those infants the same rights as infants who are born naturally."
Scott praised the commitment of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park. Pigman, a freshman legislator and emergency room physician, watched the bill signing via Skype -- he's a U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who was deployed to Kuwait after the legislative session.
The new law, which takes effect July 1, calls for care "appropriate for the gestational age of the infant."
It states that an infant born alive "during or immediately after attempted abortion is entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as any other child born alive in course of natural birth" and ensures an infant is "transported to a hospital."
A violation of the law is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a $1,000 fine or both. Healthcare practitioners, as well as employees of hospitals, physicians' offices and abortion clinics, must report all known violations to the Department of Health.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, called the bill "a great human rights victory" for the state.
Florida becomes the 29th state to enact similar legislation, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group that supports women's access to abortions and collects abortion data.
The bill passed the House and Senate floor unanimously, drawing rare bipartisan support and the acceptance of groups like Planned Parenthood.
The law won't have any impact on the group's clinics, said Lillian Tamayo, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast. The likelihood of a live birth during or after an abortion is "one of the most extremely unlikely scenarios," she said, and if it did occur their health practitioners are "guided by very stringent medical guidelines ...We would provide appropriate care to both the mother and the infant."
The new law addresses cases when a failed abortion could result in a live birth in either a late-term abortion -- which can be performed only if two physicians say the mother's life is in danger -- or if a mother was further along in her pregnancy than estimated.
No third-trimester abortions were recorded in Florida in 2012 (state law defines the third trimester as after 24 weeks of pregnancy). More than 90 percent of the recorded 9,228 abortions performed statewide so far this year took place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the state.
(c)2013 The Miami Herald