TALLAHASSEE - Because Florida's constitution spells out a specific right to privacy, abortion restrictions such as those recently passed in Texas and North Dakota are unlikely to take hold here, according to reproductive-law experts. That's not to say abortion opponents won't keep trying. This year, Florida enacted a related law that requires medical care for newborns that survive botched abortions. Still, the anti-abortion movement has an uphill battle, says Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University law professor who studies reproductive-health issues. Florida's constitution says that "every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life."
The Florida Supreme Court has since ruled that the state Constitution "embraces more privacy interests, and extends more protection to the individual in those interests, than does the federal Constitution," including abortion rights. "So, in addition to some political barriers, you also have a pretty big legal barrier," Ziegler says. Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, all Republicans, are avowedly pro-life. Though both chambers have Republican majorities, the Florida Senate tends to skew more politically moderate. That's why it's doubtful that Florida will see restrictive abortion laws such as those in Texas and North Dakota, which are "about as far as any state has pushed the envelope in trying to undo Roe v. Wade," Ziegler says. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Roe case that abortions are legal up until a fetus is "viable," meaning the child can live outside the womb, now about 22-24 weeks. Nineteen years later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the high court reaffirmed its earlier decision but gave states more leeway to regulate abortions. Texas Gov. Rick Perry this month approved a law that bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires abortion-clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals and restricts the procedures to licensed surgical centers. Only five of Texas' 42 abortion clinics currently meet the new requirements, which take effect in October. Texas state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who authored that state's bill, said her bill is based on fetal pain thresholds, not viability, which the Roe decision did not address. "I think any state can do it," Laubenberg said, adding that parts of the law had passed in other states. "We just pulled it all together." Also this month, a federal judge temporarily blocked a new North Dakota law that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected - as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The judge called the law "clearly invalid and unconstitutional." That law, called the most restrictive in the nation, otherwise goes into effect next month. Abortion-rights advocates say the measure is an attempt to close North Dakota's lone abortion clinic. In 2008, 94,360 women had abortions in Florida, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization. That number includes women who came from other states. Abortions in Florida represent almost 8 percent of all U.S. abortions. There are now 67 abortion clinics licensed in Florida, according to the Agency for Health Care Administration. Twenty-four of those are Planned Parenthood clinics; the rest are run by other health care providers. In the Tampa Bay area, abortions are performed at Planned Parenthood clinics in Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa. No Florida Planned Parenthood clinic performs abortions after 15 weeks and six days, says Kellie Dupree, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. There are private providers in Florida that offer abortions after 16 weeks, but "most abortions at that stage are wanted pregnancies that have gone tragically wrong," Dupree says. "We haven't seen any truly extreme bills move very far in the Legislature, although they are filed every year," she adds. That includes the "Florida for Life Act," for example, which would ban abortions outright. Another bill that failed would have banned abortions based on the race or gender of the fetus. But abortion opponents were successful in the Legislature this year with the "Infants Born Alive" bill (HB 1129), dealing with babies who survive abortions. Rep. Cary Pigman, the Avon Park Republican and emergency room doctor who sponsored the bill, says the prognosis is favorable that more abortion restrictions will pass next year. "I believe life begins at conception," Pigman said in an email. "While I respect those who argue for individual autonomy, I believe there is continued public support to restrict on-demand abortions, especially those performed after 20 weeks. "At 20 weeks gestation, anybody who looks at an ultrasound picture of the baby clearly sees a small, young person," Pigman adds. "Also at 20 weeks, the possibility of the baby's survival outside of the womb becomes real." [email protected] (850) 765-0807 Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Florida's Right to Privacy Florida Constitution, Article I, Section 23: "Right of privacy - Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public's right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law." In re T.W., Florida Supreme Court (1989): "Florida is unusual in that it (has) its own express constitutional provision guaranteeing an independent right to privacy ... Florida's privacy provision is clearly implicated in a woman's decision of whether or not to continue her pregnancy."