Orlando lawmakers want increased protections for reproductive health clinics

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Rep. Amy Mercado - PHOTO VIA FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Two Orlando lawmakers called Wednesday for passage of legislation that would increase penalties for people who threaten and intimidate women who use reproductive-health clinics or providers who work at the clinics.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Rep. Amy Mercado, D-Orlando, said women have to worry about their personal safety when going to the clinics. She pointed to a mass shooting in November 2015 outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., where three people died and nine were injured and two separate fatal shootings more than 20 years ago in Pensacola.

“As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure that Floridians feel safe from harm when accessing any and all vital health care services,” she said adding that it’s a “shame that our health care providers must hire patient escorts or bodyguards due to safety concerns.”

Mercado’s proposal (HB 189) and a Senate version (SB 320), filed by Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, have not been heard in committees. The bills include varying penalties, depending on the circumstances of attempts to intimidate or injure clinic clients or workers or to damage or destroy facilities.

Mercado said the state bill is modeled after the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton and was passed after violence at abortion clinics in the 1990s.

Pensacola physician David Gunn was killed in March 1993 outside of the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic. Seventeen months later, John Bayard Britton, a Fernandina Beach physician, and James H. Barrett, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had volunteered to be an escort, also were killed in Pensacola.