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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.

In Iowa, a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed 77 percent of state residents are against “abortion-distress” legislation.

James Sinnott, one of those who told the Des Moines Register he was against legislation that would allow women to sue for psychological damage years after receiving an abortion in Iowa, said Senate File 26 is nothing but an attempt to stop abortions.

"If that law passed and you could sue the doctors, you wouldn’t have any abortions. It wouldn't be worth it," he said.

But Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, said there are too many women who don’t fully understand what they are getting into before they decide to have an abortion.

"They just didn’t know what was happening,” DeWitte said. “They didn’t feel that they were supported. They didn’t feel that they were given adequate information. They didn’t feel like they were given all their options.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren (R) told reporters before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the legislation in January that despite what pro-choice advocates contend, he is not trying to subvert the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions in 1973.

"The whole idea behind this is that we want to make sure that women who are making a very difficult decision in their life have some recourse if they have mental health issues because of that decision," Chelgren said. "They need to be aware of that from their practicing physician about the abortion.”

This is not Chelgren’s first attempt to win approval for the legislation that was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 17

Chelgren told reporters his previous proposals were stopped by Senate Democrats, but this time he is more optimistic if only because the GOP now controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office after six Democrats were ousted in November.

Chelgren’s legislation is not the only abortion-related bill that has been proposed by Republicans in the Iowa Senate this session.

The entire GOP caucus is cosponsoring legislation to defund Planned Parenthood in Iowa and the Des Moines Register reported anti-abortion groups are lobbying for legislation that would declare life begins at conception.

A proposed ban on using fetal tissue in medical research has also moved forward in the Iowa Legislature.

Daniel Zeno, from the ACLU of Iowa, disagreed with Chelgren’s professed motivation. Zeno said it was nothing but a move to “demonize abortion providers.”

"The bill’s intent is clear,” Zeno testified, “to set up an adversarial relationship between provider and patient, shame women and block access to reproductive healthcare.”