March 19, 2016; The Guardian

A bill recently passed by the Florida legislature effectively defunds reproductive services clinics by preventing state agencies from working with any organization that provides abortion care, other than in specific situations such as rape. Like the Texas law now in front of the Supreme Court, the bill would also require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as surgical centers and for their doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. As the bill heads toward Governor Rick Scott’s desk for signature, in a now familiar gambit, some lawmakers have produced a list of alternative reproductive health care providers—but this list includes such facilities as dentist offices, podiatrists, optometrists, the Salvation Army, and 67 public schools.

“I don’t understand how they put this list together,” said Kheyanna Suarez, a student at Florida Atlantic University and client at Planned Parenthood. “I can’t go and get care at those places. If I have to leave my healthcare up to the places on that list, I am scared. I don’t think an elementary school can prescribe me birth control.”

As has been done elsewhere where a state has tried to legislate the defunding of clinics, the bill’s supporters argued that the state’s health centers were capable of replacing the services provided by the clinics. They argued repeatedly that there were 29 federally funded public health centers for every Planned Parenthood center in Florida.

“That ratio number is based on this list,” said state lawmaker Lori Berman, “which is a fallacious list, since many of the providers on that list are in no position to provide women’s healthcare.”

“What this would do is take away funding for programs that are primary care,” said Chris Estes, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of south, east and north Florida. “Cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease screening and treatment, pap smears, birth control—these are services that women in great need are accessing [at Planned Parenthood health centers]. There are not-for-profit programs for patients who don’t have insurance, don’t have money, and can’t afford to go elsewhere for it.”

Planned Parenthood, which has been fighting a wave of such measures in various states since the now-debunked video from the Center for Medical Progress was released, will launch its biggest ever ad campaign—worth $100,000—in Florida next week in an effort to derail the bill. “This bill is one of the most expansive attacks on women’s health care we’ve seen to date,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood.

To block the bill, Gov. Rick Scott would have to veto it by March 26th. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on the Texas law similar to this Florida measure in June.—Ruth McCambridge