Committee passes bill that would ban nearly all abortions

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A House committee passed a bill Monday that would ban nearly all abortions in Florida, but even backers of the bill say its chances of passage, or of surviving a court challenge if it became law, likely are slim.

House Bill 865 defines human life as beginning at conception, and would make it a crime to perform an abortion unless two physicians certify in writing that it’s needed to prevent death or serious, permanent injury to the mother.

The House Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill on an 8-3 near-party line vote Monday with one Republican, Ray Pilon of Sarasota, voting no and two Democrats absent. It was the first of three committees the bill must pass prior to a House floor vote.

Even some anti-abortion legislators, along with the analysis of the bill by the legislative staff, said the bill as written would probably be ruled in court to violate the Florida Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Rep. Charles Van Zant, R- Keystone Heights, has filed the bill for the last seven years, but this was its first committee hearing. Some legislators said that was out of courtesy to Van Zant, who is term limited and in his final session.

“That may have been part of it,” he said when asked whether that’s why his bill was heard.

Van Zant argued that the bill is constitutional. He said the Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion “is not a law. If it were a law, it would violate the Constitution.”

But the bill’s odds of passage may still be slim.

“The bill, probably, frankly, in all due respect, is never going to get a hearing in the Senate,” said Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, who voted for it.

Spano acknowledged he was voting for the bill despite concern it could cause him problems winning re-election in his Hillsborough County swing district. “I have to act on what I believe, notwithstanding what the consequences might be.”

Debate was brief and calm.

Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, praised Van Zant’s dedication to principles before saying he was “compelled and required to vote against this bill. … It’s clearly unconstitutional. I think it violates the rights of women on so many levels.”

The bill is one of several pieces of anti-abortion legislation now advancing in the Florida Legislature.

Other bills that have received approval by at least one committee include measures that would prohibit Medicaid payments to any clinic where abortions are performed; require doctors who perform abortions to have local hospital admitting privileges; and require abortion clinics to meet the same construction standards and other licensing requirements as walk-in surgical centers; and prohibit use of fetal tissue resulting from an abortion for research.

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