Archbishop Wenski urges Florida Gov. Crist to sign bill


Archbishop Thomas Wenski

  The, Florida

The Legislature approved House Bill 1143, which makes a number of policy changes that will benefit the people of Florida. While there are many administrative simplification provisions that will streamline government and generate savings to taxpayers, the bill also precludes taxpayer funding of abortion in health plans and requires an ultrasound that a woman is given the option to view before having an abortion. The bill is now before Gov. Charlie Crist, who must decide whether to sign it into law.

The new health care reform law signed by President Barack Obama on March 23 directs states to operate and maintain health insurance exchanges, which must meet federally - prescribed requirements. Participating plans are eligible to receive federal subsidies.

Significantly, health-insurance plans offering abortion coverage are allowed to participate in a state's exchange and to receive federal subsidies. President Obama's March 24 executive order does not change this.

While the executive order addresses the health-insurance exchanges, it fails to apply the long-standing, bipartisan Hyde Amendment and other federal precedent. For the first time, federal subsidies will go to plans that cover abortions. This is something a Quinnipiac poll conducted last December found the public opposes by a margin of 72 percent to 23 percent.

Specific language in the new federal health care reform law permits state legislatures to affirmatively opt out of offering insurance plans that cover abortions in their exchanges. HB 1143 does not completely prohibit plans from covering abortion, but precludes that coverage when a plan is purchased in whole or in part with federal or state subsidies, thus applying the principle of the Hyde Amendment to the Florida exchange. This addresses a significant shortcoming of health-care reform for Florida.

The bill also ensures that a woman will be able to make a more fully informed decision regarding an abortion. Under current law, ultrasounds are required for second- and third-trimester abortions. According to a 2008 Florida Senate staff analysis of SB 2400, "at least 82 percent of the licensed abortion clinics in Florida require every woman seeking an abortion in the first trimester to have an ultrasound." The same analysis indicated that "the fee for the abortion includes the cost of the ultrasound" so it is not much of a new requirement and it is not raising costs. The bill's primary change to state policy is that a woman must be offered the opportunity to view the ultrasound image. While she may decline for any reason, she will have the benefit of additional information to consider prior to a making a decision regarding her life and the life of her child.

This is significant legislation. HB 1143 does not change the fact that women may receive abortions in Florida. It does ensure, however, that taxpayers won't be paying for abortions and that a woman has more information when making her decision - information that does often change hearts and minds. I urge the governor to sign HB 1143 into law.