Clinics win respite from new Florida abortion script law
Jenny Brown
July/August 1997

A day after it went into effect July 1, a suit by abortion clinics prompted a judge put on hold the new requirement for a state-written abortion script. The script is required by a new law, misnamed 'informed consent,' which was voted in by the majority-Republican Florida legislature in May. Under the law a doctor is required to read a script to women who are about to get abortions. It details fetal development up to 8 1/2 months (although most abortions are before 16 weeks) and gives the names of adoption agencies.

Four abortion clinics brought the suit on behalf of their patients, the Presidential Women's Center of West Palm Beach, the North Florida Women's Health and Counseling Services of Tallahassee, the Birth Control Center (Tallahassee) and the Feminist Women's Health Center (Tallahassee). The law was challenged as a violation of women's right to equal protection under the law, right to privacy and constitutional rights.

The Gainesville Sun carried no news of the judge's order.

According to State Rep. Barry Silver, D-Boca Raton, the lawyer who filed the suit, "[The law] supposedly is trying to inform women. That sounds like a laudable goal. But it only wants to inform them if they make a certain choice, and that's abortion, because there's an assumption that it's the wrong choice. People are trying to impose their religious views on others." (Tallahassee Democrat, June 28.)

Feminists, abortion rights advocates and abortion providers object to the law because women seeking abortions are already informed about abortion, the same type of informed consent that is given in the case of any medical procedure. Just like the D&X abortion ban, which the Florida legislature passed but Chiles vetoed, the so-called informed consent measure is just another attempt to chip away at women's ability to get abortions, in this case by raising the cost.

The requirement that the doctor read the script adds time and thus adds to the price of abortion, which at $300-400 (first trimester) or $400-$1,900 (second trimester) is already out of reach of many women who need it.

The script also forces doctors who aren't judgmental and don't disapprove of women getting abortions to read something that makes it sound like they do disapprove. There are already too many sexist doctors. Those that aren't sexist will in effect be required by the state of Florida to use their professional credibility to officially 'disapprove' women getting abortions.

The script--a Florida Department of health pamphlet entitled "Information about Fetal Development and Pregnancy-Related Services"--gives no medical information that would help a woman getting an abortion. Instead, it gives apparently randomly selected facts about fetal development. For example: "8 Weeks Fertilization: The embryo is called a fetus. The length of the fetus, measured from the top of the head to the bottom trunk (crown to rump), is about 1 1/2 inches. The head is large. Structures that will form the eyes, ears, arms and legs are identifiable. Muscles and skeleton are developing. In two weeks, the heartbeat can be detected electronically."

Then it gives a toll-free number under the heading "An Alternative to Terminating Pregnancy--Adoption." Under a section labeled "Health Care Options," the pamphlet states: "Health care services are available in Florida for pregnant women during pregnancy and delivery," and recommends that women call the Healthy Baby Hotline at 1-800-451-BABY or the local county health department. It also recommends that women who need financial help get a Medicaid eligibility screening at their local county health department. Then it says that Healthy Start, "a program that helps pregnant women and infants get needed services... may include: prenatal care and family planning [not including abortion]... well and sick child care... housing assistance ... transportation to needed services ..." etc. etc. Anyone who has attempted to avail themselves of these cutback-decimated services--for example waiting at the health department for four hours, with or without a sick child--knows that this is false advertising, designed to make women think there is a social safety net where there is really just an understaffed humiliating bureaucracy, designed to trip you up and make you unable to get the services because there are never enough to go around.

The pamphlet and script are a perfect example of why people don't trust government. An unbiased and medically-accurate pamphlet would point out the risk of serious injury from childbirth. It would detail the wear and tear on a woman's body of carrying a pregnancy to term. And it would point out that the chance of a woman's death from childbirth is five times greater than that of an abortion. It would also accurately state the state of services, not give a ten-point wish list of what Healthy Start may include if you are eligible.

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