Sen. Kelli Stargel’s controversial bill requiring that pregnant minors seek parental approval before obtaining an abortion passed its first hurdle Tuesday along party lines.
The Lakeland Republican’s bill (SB 404) leaves an option for minors to exempt by a court if they prove that they are mature enough to make their own decisions or that they were victims of abuse. But the bill’s detractors say it does not go far enough to protect underage girls or respect the privacy of their bodies.
At the nearly two-hour Senate Health Policy Committee meeting, dozens of witnesses shared personal stories or fears with or without the bill. Stargel noted that the state already requires that a parent be notified when his or her daughter obtains an abortion.
“I feel like parental notice of abortion didn’t go far enough in requiring that family relationship,” Stargel said. “There’s no conversation. There’s no discussion. There’s no wrap-around. There’s no family unity, and I think that’s the fundamental difference between parental notice and parental consent.”
Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, said Stargel put tremendous thought into the bill and appreciated discussions the two have had. But she feared it does not adequately protect victims of abuse or human trafficking, girls in foster care, or girls without supportive families.
“I’m going to be candid that this bill scares me, because I do believe that it is a slippery slope and I think that it can be a very dangerous slope,” Book said.
“Abortion still happens, and it always will happen, but something really — I believe — scary happens when you create restrictive laws on abortion access, when you put young girls and women in a desperate position. Abortion gets pushed into the shadows and it becomes very very dangerous.”
Arguments for the bill ranged from improving family communication to freedom from government intervention in family matters. But Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, framed the discussion as a debate over parental responsibility.
“We’ve talked about parental rights, but it’s really about parental responsibility,” Baxley said. “It’s about the responsibility of parenting and being responsible for everything a minor child does,” Baxley said. “That’s parenting, and it’s serious, and there’s a reason that minors can’t give consent, because they’re children and they need parents.”
Rev. Nathaniel Wilcox, who testified at the hearing for Evidence Ministry, called it a common sense bill.
“I feel outraged that someone else will come and try to make decisions for my children or try to make decision for my children behind my back,” Wilcox said. “I feel that as a parent, I was good enough to have a child or my children, now I should be man enough to be able to help them to endure and grow strong.”
Pastor Wendy Gallegos, with Open Door Community Church, called on the Bible’s word for the responsibility of parents to protect their families:
“Parents have a mandate from God, and whether they do they job they’re supposed to do, they’re still in the position, not government, to do that.”
But the bill’s detractors, including over a dozen young men and women, said the bill invaded girl’s control over their body. And Kara Gross, legislative director for ACLU of Florida, said the bill would not ensure that a parent has knowledge of their daughter’s pregnancy because state statutes already require parental notification for girls’ abortions.
“In fact, this bill actually makes it less likely a minor will involve their parents,” Gross said. “If a minor thinks their parent won’t consent and that they will be forced to have a child, that minor is not going to speak to their parents.”
Trish Neely, a League of Women Voters of Tallahassee board member, said some girls are victims of abuse or incest.
“This bill’s answer is for such vulnerable girls to navigate our complex court system,” Neely said. “They do not need a judge. They need speedy access to health care.”
The bill would give three-day deadlines for a lower court or circuit court to issue rulings. It also enforces a seven-day period for an appeals court to rule if a previous court denied the girl’s request.
To deny a girl’s petition for an abortion, it must find if another person provided undue influence in the girl’s decision. The court would also weigh other factors, including the girl’s age, intelligence and ability to explain medical risks associated with an abortion.
Girls who prove that they are victims of child abuse or sexual assault by one or both of their parents would also be granted the judicial bypass.
But Book said all but two court clerks she called knew about the judicial bypass process. She advocated for a portal for girls to find the information they need to go through court.
Last Session, the Health Policy Committee approved the bill (SB 1774), but it stalled in the Judiciary Committee, cut for time. The bill for next Session first appeared in the Health Policy Committee last month, but testimony and debate was postponed till Tuesday after Democrats drew out the meeting with a combined 15 amendments to the bill.
Following Tuesday’s 6-3 vote to advance SB 404, it next goes to the Judiciary Committee.