Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have required women seeking a first-trimester abortion to pay for an ultrasound exam and, with few exceptions, view the image or have it described to them by their doctor.
Crist, a former Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, said in his veto message that requirement would put an "inappropriate burden" on women seeking abortions and violate their privacy rights.
"Individuals hold strong personal views on the issue of life, as do I," Crist wrote. "However, personal views should not result in laws that unwisely expand the role of government and coerce people to obtain medical tests or procedures that are not medically necessary."
Crist's likely opponents in a three-way general election Nov. 2 have firmer stands on the incendiary issue. Republican Marco Rubio opposes abortion while Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek favors giving women a choice.
Crist, who has three sisters, has repeatedly called himself "pro-life" but often has said he prefers changing hearts to changing laws. He did so again in the veto message.
"Such measures do not change hearts, which is the only true and effective way to ensure that a new life coming into the world is loved, cherished and receives the care that is deserved," Crist wrote.
The Republican-led Legislature, largely on party lines, had approved the requirements, which were last-minute amendments to an otherwise non-controversial health care bill (HB 1143).
GOP reaction was so swift that the House Republican office issued a news release decrying the veto seven minutes before the governor's office announced it.
"This is just another example of Charlie Crist saying something publicly one day and then doing the opposite the next," said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach. "Charlie Crist is becoming easy to predict: disregarding principle, previous statements or public assurances, he will switch his positions to whatever he thinks will get him the most votes.'
Crist, though, has been hinting at a veto since shortly after the bill passed during the closing hours of the legislative session on April 30, almost immediately saying he had "concerns" with the bill.
All women seeking a first-trimester abortion would have been required to pay for an ultrasound, which usually costs between $750 and $1,500. Only women who could prove they were victims of rape, incest or domestic violence would have been exempt from either looking at the image or hearing its description.
Supporters said they wanted to give women more information before having an abortion during the first trimester, when 90 percent of Florida abortions occur. The state already requires ultrasounds for second- and third-trimester abortions. As of May 1, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported Florida was among 14 states with specific requirements for ultrasounds as part the abortion procedure.
Democrats and some female Republican lawmakers said the bill invaded women's privacy. They called on Crist to veto it.
The anti-abortion provisions were added to the bill two days before adjournment and final votes came in both chambers without going through any committees, angering opponents.
An almost identical proposal failed to get through the Senate two years ago, but the mix in the chamber has changed with the death of Republican Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville and Democratic Sen. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton getting elected to Congress. Both opposed that measure in 2008. King's replacement, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, voted for the bill and Deutch's seat was vacant.