Abortion Clinics Lose Public Funding in Florida

by | March 28, 2016 AT 5:00 PM

By Gray Rohrer

Abortion clinics throughout Florida will go without taxpayer funds, face increased reporting requirements and new hurdles for doctors providing the procedure under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott, a Republican, did not make any comment on HB 1411, which was signed with 67 other bills, but the flood of statements from abortion rights and anti-abortion groups alternatively condemning and praising the move reflects the sharp divide over the issue.

"As a result of this bill, thousands of people across Florida may no longer be able to access essential reproductive health care, such as cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. "This cruel bill is designed to rip health care away from those most at risk. Rick Scott has shown he will do all he can to strip basic care away from those who need it most."

But John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, an Orlando-based social conservative advocacy group, hailed the bill as protecting women's' health, since more inspections will ensure greater quality care.

"This is a historic victory and we are thrilled to have been an active part of this effort," Stemberger said.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, requires annual licensure inspections for clinics and bans the purchase, sell or transfer of fetal remains. The law upgrades the failure to properly dispose of fetal tissue from a second-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree misdemeanor.

Stemberger's group has hounded Scott since last fall, when a controversy erupted over videos from anti-abortion groups posing as researchers that showed Planned Parenthood officials in other states negotiating over the transfer of fetal tissue.

Scott ordered his health agency to investigate all Planned Parenthood clinics in Florida, but Stemberger said he could go further, by banning the clinics from receiving federal Medicaid funds.

"(Lawmakers) collectively did what the governor failed to do, namely, provided leadership on this critical issue and made it happen. We are nonetheless pleased that Gov. Scott did follow the Florida Legislature's lead in this matter and signed this important bill into law," Stemberger said.

The videos, which involved Planned Parenthood executives in other states, set off a firestorm of protests from anti-abortion activists, who pushed Republicans at the federal and state level to block funding through Medicaid contracts for the group for other health care services. Federal law already blocks funds specifically for abortions.

Scott's investigation, conducted by the Agency for Health Care Administration, didn't find any sale of fetal tissue, but it did cite three clinics for performing abortions after the first trimester. Planned Parenthood disputed those allegations, and the case is still pending in court. A separate criminal investigation prompted by House Republicans turned up nothing.

The new law attempts to clarify that issue by defining the first trimester as 11 whole weeks after fertilization.

The national outcry over the videos came amid an ongoing battle in Florida over abortion. Scott signed a bill last year requiring women to wait 24 hours and get two appointments with a clinic before receiving an abortion.

A Gainesville women's health clinic and the ACLU of Florida filed suit against the measure, but an appeals court tossed a lower court injunction against the law last month, leaving the waiting period intact.

"Anyone who has lived in Florida during the Rick Scott administration cannot be surprised by his signature on this legislation restricting women's access to health care," Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida, said of the new law.

(c)2016 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)