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Florida House passes 24-hour wait for abortions

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (Reuters) - Women seeking abortions would be required to wait 24 hours under a bill passed by the Florida House on Thursday.

The Republican-supported measure also creates a number of additional restrictions affecting clinic ownership, physician training and late-term procedures. But opponents said the bill has slimmer chances of passing the state Senate.

Following a lengthy and emotional debate, the Republican-controlled House voted 78-33 along party lines to approve the bill that requires new clinics be owned by doctors and prohibits an abortion if the physician has determined the fetus has reached "viability."

The vote is the latest in a series of bills over the past few years by abortion opponents over such issues as parental notification, judicial bypass rules and the use of ultrasounds.

"I ask you to vote for this bill, not because it is a 'pro-life' issue but because it really is an issue about women's health and an issue of women's safety," House sponsor Rep. Rachel Burgin, a Republican from Riverview, told members before the vote.

Among its provisions, the bill would make a woman wait 24 hours after seeing a physician before an abortion could be performed. Patients must also be informed that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks, an assertion that has prompted spirited debate in the scientific community.

The bill requires doctors who perform the procedure to take an annual ethics course as part of their continuing education.

Opponents said that despite the assurances of the bill's sponsors, its measures had little to do with educating women or ensuring quality of care but was instead a thinly veiled attempt to place more roadblocks for women seeking abortions.

"My hat is off to Rep. Burgin," said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, a Democrat from Hollywood, Fla. "You have done a masterful job of defending something that I truly think is indefensible."

The bill is not assured of passage in the Republican-controlled state Senate, a 40-member chamber considered more moderate on social issues than the 120-member House.

The Senate version of the bill is only in its second committee, which procedurally does not yet put it in position for a floor vote.

"I'd have to get a feel for the body" of the Senate on the measure before deciding whether to consider it, said Sen. President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican from Merritt Island.

(Editing By Peter Bohan)

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