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Florida, Iowa Abortion Bills Would Allow Women to Sue for Psychological Damage

Doctors, insurance companies, pro-choice advocates, and even one Republican are appalled by abortion legislation that Florida state Rep. Erin Grall (R) has proposed to allow a woman to sue for psychological problems associated with the procedure.

"This is bigger than the abortion issue, ladies and gentleman. This is a malpractice bill that indicts the current system,” insurance lobbyist Mark Delegal told the state House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

A post on the Florida Planned Parenthood Alliance’s Facebook page branded the legislation as “a blatant attempt to intimidate and shutter safe and law-abiding abortion providers.”

House Bill 19 would allow women to sue abortion providers for emotional distress up to 10 years after they receive an abortion.

The legislation moved out of the state House subcommittee on a 10-6 vote on Feb. 9.

Erin Foster, a Tampa woman who received an abortion years ago and now is a pro-choice advocate, testified before the subcommittee that Grall’s legislation was another law produced by politicians who don’t trust women to make their own choices.

Even though Foster said her family considered it to be the “ultimate sin," she does not regret having an abortion.

"I would mostly regret if my representatives failed to trust more than half of their constituency, which is women, to make these decisions for themselves," Foster said.

But Grall said her bill protects women who might not develop signs of psychological trauma until years after the abortion.

"This is especially true of the psychological issues which may develop over time, or be underlying and triggered by a later event in life,” Grall said.

Opponents of the legislation point out her bill’s 10-year time limit goes eight years beyond the two-year statute of limitations in Florida’s current medical malpractice laws.

Grall said women need the extra time.

“Because of the stigma associated with the procedure in our society, sometimes women are not as willing to speak out, which would make it difficult for them to decide to do that within the two-year period,” Grall told the subcommittee. “It’s a timing issue.”

Pro-choice advocates testified before the committee that Grall’s bill would make doctors less likely to perform abortions because they would have to pay for extra liability insurance to cover that extra eight years.

Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison voted with Democrats on the committee against HB 19.

“The unknown potential consequences were just too much for me at this first committee stop,” he said. “I need to really learn more about it, find out what the impact will be on physicians and the insurability of those physicians.”

Rep. Jay Fant (R) said if nothing else, Grall’s proposal could be a bonanza for trial lawyers in Florida.

The legislation has to be approved by two more House committees before going to the full House for a vote. Grall told the Miami Herald she expected companion legislation to be introduced in the Senate soon.