Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed into law a bill that cuts state funding to clinics that perform abortions. State funding of abortion was already illegal in Florida. The new law, HB 1411, guarantees that no state funds can indirectly fund abortions by halting support for the same institutions that perform them and therefore also cuts off funding for preventive services at clinics that also provide abortions. Various charitable clinics and county health departments collectively receive more than $5 million in state funds for non-abortion services.
The law 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.
“HB 1411 is something that we call omnibus legislation,” alum Catherine Wolfe (’11) commented. Wolfe is a volunteer and advocacy coordinator at Planned Parenthood in Sarasota. “This means that there are various different components of the bill that are potentially unrelated to one another, but they are all housed in one piece of legislation… it’s also a 13-page document, which is really uncommon for state legislation partly because there are so many disparate things within the bill.”
Gov. Scott signed the law, effective July 1, along with 67 other bills addressing a myriad of topics, but did not specifically comment on the abortion law. Scott’s office only said, in a news release, that it “revises regulations for licensed abortion clinics.”
The law appears to be aimed at Planned Parenthood. The new prohibition could mean the end of birth control, cancer screenings, tests for diseases and other services for thousands of low-income women in Florida. President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Cecile Richards said in a statement the law seemed “designed to rip health care away from those most at risk.”
“Seven pieces of anti-abortion legislation were written this session, that’s extreme,” Wolfe said. “Sessions started immediately after the smear campaign.” Last fall a controversy erupted over videos from anti-abortion groups posing as researchers. The videos, deemed by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards as a smear campaign, showed Planned Parenthood officials in other states negotiating over the transfer of fetal tissue. The anti-abortion group behind the videos has alleged that the healthcare provider profits from the practice. Fetal tissue donation is legal and Planned Parenthood does not profit from the donations.
“These outrageous accusations based on videos are offensive and untrue,” Richards told members of Congress last year. “But facts have never gotten in the way of campaigns to keep women from getting healthcare.”
A Houston grand jury investigated the accusations of criminal misconduct against Planned Parenthood and cleared the organization of any wrongdoing. Instead, David Daleiden, leader of the anti-abortion group responsible for the recordings, has been indicted.
“We know for a fact that the smear campaign had been organized with the effort of people involved, at the national level, with government,” Wolfe said. “What we also know for a fact is that the budget that was proposed this legislative session had Planned Parenthood named in it, by line, to be defunded. No other abortion provider, just Planned Parenthood, and that’s not the only thing that we do, obviously, so there is no doubt, for me at least, and I think the evidence is pretty damning, that this is targeted.”
In an online release praising Scott’ The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops praised Scott’s decision. A statement on their website by spokesperson Ingrid Delgado stated: “Abortionists will finally be held to the same standard as all other physicians who perform invasive procedures in a non-hospital setting by the requirement to have admitting privileges or a transfer agreement with a nearby hospital. It is incomprehensible that opponents suggest the bill makes women less safe.”
The law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or for the clinic to have a transfer agreement there is similar to a law in Texas now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Admitting privilege is the right of a doctor, through membership as medical staff, to admit patients to a hospital or medical center for providing specific diagnostic or therapeutic services to the patient in that hospital.
“It doesn’t sound like a bad idea on its face,” Wolfe commented, “because if allegedly these admitting privileges are gonna help women be healthier and safer then why is it an issue? It’s an issue because abortion is one of the safest procedures that there is. We consistently get a 99 percent safety rating for abortion procedure from ACOG which is the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as the AMA (American Medical Association). So there aren’t complications that would require you to be admitted to a hospital.”
Doctors cannot receive admitting privileges from hospitals unless they admit patients, as the cost of providing admitting privileges must be made up through the admittance of new patients.
The same policy was implemented in Alabama (the Women’s Health and Safety Act) in 2013, but the enactment of the new requirement on abortion providers was quickly blocked by the courts. Judge Myron H. Thompson of Federal District Court said it “unconstitutionally restricts the rights of women seeking abortions in Alabama,” and that it would “eliminate abortion services in approximately two-thirds of the state” by closing the only clinics in Alabama’s three largest cities, which provide 40 percent of the state’s procedures.
“It’s also particularly difficult in the south where the majority of our regional hospitals are religious. You don’t necessarily have to provide reason for denying admitting privileges, you just can… Some privileges also maintain that doctors have to live within the area, so that’s really difficult for our gynecologists because we have health centers all throughout twenty-two counties… What it does is it effectively takes away doctor’s ability to provide abortion.”
The law also states that Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA) would be mandated to review 50 percent of abortion patient records for each health center. “To me my first thought is that’s a massive invasion of privacy,” Wolfe said. “Two; it’s targeted to abortion records. These agencies have unbelievable access to our patient’s personal medical records… it makes our patient records incredibly easy to access.” It also states that there would be no cap on licensing fees. “Some of our centers have multiple licenses, and we have eleven health centers in the affiliate. If there’s no cap they could bankrupt us with that alone, and it would be law.”
Another Florida law passed last year requires women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Florida abortion-seekers also must undergo an ultrasound. Scott said in 2015 it was “an important step to protecting life while ensuring there is more time to make a life-changing decision.” A study published in 2014 in the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal stated that “the vast majority of women who seek out abortion services have already made up their mind.”
“It’s another appointment, it’s another thing you have to purchase and there’s no medical necessity whatsoever,” Wolfe said. “What’s intended to do is shame women… because at that point they’ve decided… Some states even make women submit to trans-vaginal… It’s very invasive, not comfortable, and very expensive… Ohio recently passed legislation that you have to cremate your fetus, bury it and give it a ceremony…. it may seem distant at this point but we have to know, because we could be the next state.”
The law also prohibits Planned Parenthood from working with public health departments. “There’s a statement in the legislation that says we would be defunded of all state funding and what that essentially results in loosing out Title X funding, which is for family planning,” Wolfe explained. “The other thing it does is that it would not allow Medicaid patients to see us, and we would loose any subcontracted work with state facilities… So we would loose our labs, and we would loose all of those patients that come referred from the health department. We wouldn’t be able to get any kind of materials, service, patients, anything. We wouldn’t be able to work with them in any capacity whatsoever. It’s a really big blow to our patients. Rick Scott did not expand medicaid in the state so not only are there now so many people in the gap, but those people who were able to cling to their Medicaid now have even less providers, and less care.” Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in a statement she predicts HIV rates will “skyrocket.
“It’s worth it to pay attention to what is going on nationally because this extreme anti-abortion legislation is being seen everywhere,” Wolfe added. “We have to know what’s being introduced, not just in Florida, because what we are seeing elsewhere could be in Florida within a year, and we may have to fight it here.”