Not since the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case has Florida found itself so tangled in the politics of emotion.
Even the language is apocalyptic.
"Pray, pray, pray. Pray that the Governor will be a man of his word (and) take action now that is truly pro-life by signing and not vetoing this bill," reads a "critical alert" e-mail sent to the anti-abortion Florida Family Policy Council's 50,000-name mailing list.
HB 1143, passed by the Florida Legislature on April 30, could be presented to Gov. Charlie Crist any day. Then Crist will have 15 days to decide whether to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law by default by not signing it.
Early indications are that he will veto the bill.
The heart of the controversy is the "termination of pregnancy" section of HB 1143, which takes up a mere five pages of a catch-all, 137-page health care bill.
The key points are that a woman seeking an abortion must first listen to a medical practitioner describe the required ultrasound of her fetus. She does not have to look at the ultrasound, but must sign a form that no one unduly influenced her not to look.
"On two fronts it disturbs me," Crist told the Tampa Tribune editorial board a little more than a week ago. "That you would force a woman to go through this procedure … almost seems mean-spirited. To have your government impose on you, listen to a lecture, then on top of that, you have to pay for it."
Both sides have launched phone and e-mail blasts to the governor's office.
Before the bill has even reached Crist's desk, his staffers have recorded about 18,000 messages for signing and 11,000 for a veto. They expect more once the 15-day clock starts ticking.
The emotional effect of a photo of a fetus is enormous. Billboards for crisis pregnancy centers often display full-color, fiber-optic camera images that can easily be seen at 70 mph.
While not as graphic, ultrasound images of fetuses can show an unmistakable human shape that also might kick or turn during the ultrasound session.
And that is exactly the point for those who support the bill.
"It's harder to deny you're destroying a human being. This is not a frog," said Dennis Baxley, former director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and former Republican state House member from Ocala.
"These are not abstractions," Baxley said. "If you truly believe that this is violating the civil rights of small people, it's very important to offer (women the opportunity to view a sonogram ) so they don't make the wrong choice."
Making decision tougher Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, speaks from the other side of the philosophical divide.
"They say they want women to see the sonogram so they will make the right decision. Well, of course we know what they think is the right decision," Kunkel said from her Tallahassee office. "This is about making a difficult decision more difficult for a woman and her family."
Since 1994, South Carolina has had an informed-consent law that requires a woman seeking an abortion to hear the likely age of the fetus, along with information about fetal development and alternatives to abortion, then wait one hour before the abortion is performed.
"They've seen a reduction (of abortions) by half," said John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the anti-abortion Florida Family Policy Council . "That's a significant deal."
One thing both sides agree on is that working to change state laws on abortion is a technique being heavily employed by anti-abortion groups throughout the nation to limit the effectiveness of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy as part of women's constitutional right to privacy.
"There is not an absolute right to privacy," Stemberger said. "The state can't prohibit abortions, but it can regulate through several things, like parental notification, consent forms and clinic regulations."
Ultrasound requirements have been added to bills in 18 states, including Florida, during this legislative season, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research and policy analysis on reproductive rights.
"We believe abortion is a state issue, and we believe it should be fought state by state. The strategy of incrementalism gives back the power to the people," said Anthony Verdugo, founder and executive director of the Miami-based Christian Family Coalition, which is urging Crist to sign the bill. Verdugo described the Roe vs. Wade decision as a "power grab."
Obstacles delay decisions State laws have been used to limit the circumstances under which a woman can get an abortion, including waiting periods and state-mandated counseling. In Florida and 37 other states, a licensed physician must perform the abortion. In 46 states, including Florida, physicians and medical providers can refuse to perform an abortion.
The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Women's Association have opposed state-mandated obstacles to legal abortion as possibly increasing health risks and costs.
Abortion opponents insist that the bill allows for both choice and information.
"This bill empowers women," Verdugo said. "Why women's organizations don't see it that way, I don't know." Abortion rights advocates say that abortion opponents might have softened their language, but the fight is still the same. "This type of legislation is a slap in the face of women," Kunkel said. "It says that women can't make a decision for themselves."