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Bill allowing women to sue doctors who perform abortions advances in Florida House
by Mitch Perry - February 22, 2017

Women could sue doctors who performed an abortion on them without “informed consent” under a bill advanced by a House subcommittee Wednesday.

Sponsored by Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, HB 19 would allow women to seek damages from doctors who failed to adequately inform of the physical and psychological harms of abortion for up to 10 years.

Currently, the primary recourse women have on an injury during an abortion procedure is to file a medical malpractice claim.

Grall told the House Quality Subcommittee that it was “time-consuming process” that placed an “unnecessary obstacle” to a judicial remedy.

West Park Democrat Shevrin Jones, the ranking member of the committee, asked Grall about the evidence of women suffering from psychological problems because of an abortion.

Although she didn’t provide statistics to back it up, Grall said that there had been “many women and many organizations” who came to her saying they had emotional distress after such a procedure.

“There is no hard research or data that I’m able to bring to you today,” she acknowledged, adding that she believed that, in any case, it was underreported.

Doctors and insurance companies strongly oppose the bill.

Mark Delegal, with the Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance business, said passage of HB 19 could knock out all medical malpractice reforms passed by the Florida Legislature in 2003.

“There’s nothing to suggest that current law is insufficient to address the harm suffered by women who have had abortions — certainly nothing that justifies vastly expanding physician liability and treating those injured by abortions differently from all other medical malpractice claimants,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

Abortion rights advocates crowded the hearing room, and while most “waived in opposition” to the bill, several people did speak out against the bill.

Psychologist Rachel Roberts cited a 2008 study by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion that concluded that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is “no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”

“Most of you in this room would not have an audacity if she regretted having a baby, so I don’t know why you deem it acceptable to ask the one in three women like myself why we regret our abortions, “said Erin Foster, a Planned Parenthood volunteer from Tampa.

Douglas Murphy, with the Florida Medical Association, is a practicing OBGYN in Ocala. While he does not personally perform abortions, Murphy said if he did, and were just coming out of training, he would not want to practice in Florida if HB were to become the law of the land.

With the same committee hearing testimony last week about a doctor shortage in Florida, Democrats picked up on that cue in questioning Grall.

“This is just bad policy,” said Jones, “and if we’re trying to bring doctors into the state, we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

“I do believe what this is an attempt to eliminate abortions,” added St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton.

Fort Myers Republican Ray Wesley Rodrigues pointed out that the only doctors liable under the bill would be those who failed to give informed consent, which is part of current law.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” he said. “This is a good bill.”

Grall said she was speaking for the women not in the room who choose not to talk about the emotional pain suffered from an abortion, comparing it to legislation regarding children, who also rarely have a voice in the halls of the Legislature.

“So, there are plenty of times that we will be asked to speak on behalf of people who have no voice, ” she said. “And that is who this bill addresses.”

The bill has one more committee stop before reaching the floor of the entire House. There is no companion bill filed yet in the Senate.

If it were to pass in the Legislature, HB 19 would become the first such law in the country, though similar legislation is moving through the Iowa Legislature.