TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- A bill that would make women wait 24-hours before having an abortion is set to be heard on the House floor.
The House Health & Human Services Committee approved the measure (HB 633) on a straight party-line vote of 12-5, a day after a Senate committee also approved its version (SB 724) in a similar vote.
The House sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said the plan would "empower" women by giving them more time to reflect before making such momentous decisions.
"I've witnessed the pressure placed upon a woman, especially younger women, by their parents, friends, spouse or boyfriend to make a rushed decision on this procedure," Sullivan said.
During public comment on the bill Wednesday, women on both sides of the debate described having abortions --- including several who regretted the decisions later.
"I felt emptiness, guilt and regret," said Beth Harrison of Tavares. "All I wanted to do was hold my baby. …I made that choice without knowing any of the details of the procedure."
"I believed the big lie that (my pregnancy) was a ball of tissue," said Julia Costas of Tallahassee, adding she had practically no interaction with the doctor who performed her abortion. "It was more like getting an oil change. …Who knows whether I would have changed my mind had I been given more information?"
But Dian Alarcon of Miami told lawmakers that because she'd had no access to a legal abortion, she'd had an illegal one --- with no medical care.
"By supporting this bill, what you're doing is making women like me and women in the community go out and seek illegal and unsafe abortions," Alarcon said. "I think the most important thing we can do for our children is to educate them and to give them the tools to make decisions about their bodies and their lives."
The question of whether the bill would limit access to legal abortion dominated the debate, with supporters contending that the 24-hour wait would be a minor inconvenience.
"We're worried about the poor, and I understand that," said Lisa Adams of Thomasville, Ga., who said she'd had an abortion 30 years ago. "(But) the low-end cost for an abortion is $300. A tank of gas to get back there the next day is not that much. … If we were having a tumor removed, we would expect to wait 24 hours."
But Melissa Madera of Pembroke Pines, director of a project called the Abortion Diary Podcast, said the bill would simply pose another hurdle to women who had already made up their minds.
"A woman who wants to end her pregnancy will do so, by any means necessary," Madera said. "If you think you can stop women from obtaining abortions, you are mistaken. What you are doing is actually demeaning women, driving us into the back alleys, and creating a culture of shame around an abortion."
Madera said 70 percent of Florida counties have no abortion providers.
But Sullivan, in her closing argument, said there are more than 65 abortion clinics in the state.
"We know that there is not a lack of access," she said. "Florida is actually known as an abortion-destination state."
The debate among lawmakers was as spirited --- and as personal --- as the public comment.
"I fully support a woman's right to choose --- at the time of conception," said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, noting that he has an adopted daughter. "And after that choice has been made, I fully support the right of that child to live."
"As a lawmaker, I have no business injecting myself into a woman's personal medical decisions," said Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa. "It's no secret to anyone here that at 16, I found myself pregnant, scared, and turned to my family."
Cruz noted that Wednesday was her daughter's 42nd birthday. "But I'm telling you that that decision was between me and my God and my family," she said.
(The News Service of Florida's Margie Menzel contributed to this report.)
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