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RULING RENDERS SESSION ABOUT ABORTION MOOT

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Placards have been painted, stirring speeches rehearsed, riot police drilled and graphic photos mailed to state lawmakers for a legislative showdown on abortion. But a state Supreme Court ruling last week has apparently pre-empted the purpose of the session.

Legislators in other states, such as Pennsylvania, are considering abortion bills as part of their regular sessions, but Florida's four-day special session beginning Tuesday was supposed to offer a focused battleground on the emotion-charged issue.It's the first legislative special session on abortion scheduled to open since the U.S. Supreme Court's July 3 ruling upholding Missouri laws restricting abortion.

Estimates of the number of activists coming for the session range up to 200,000, or double the population of this picturesque city where the biggest excitement usually comes at Florida State University and Florida A&M football games.

The activists are expected to pump as much as $4 million into the local economy, but as far as lawmaking, the session may be a wash.

Legislative leaders already reluctant to tackle abortion said the special session became a guaranteed waste of time and money with a Thursday decision by the Florida Supreme Court. The court - citing the state constitution's guarantee of privacy - knocked down a 1988 parental-consent law for minors seeking abortions.

"It's total chaos," said state Rep. Ben Graber, an obstetrician who performs abortions. "We're heading into a session that was already vague, and now it's blurred. Obviously, we are going to have constitutional problems with any bill."

Legislative leaders say Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, who ordered the session, should postpone it. He rejects the idea, and some say it's possible that the Legislature will come to order as required by law, then adjourn without action.