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Florida Senate passes bill requiring parental consent for abortion

Parental consent has roiled the Capitol.

Notification may no longer be enough. Underaged women who seek abortions may need parental sign-off soon.

The Senate on Thursday passed by a 23-17 margin its most controversial bill (SB 404) of the 2020 Session, moving the hot-button social issue of “parental consent” for youth abortions to the House.

A robust debate, which lasted more than an hour, preceded a party-line vote.

Exceptions can be made in the case of medical emergency or by judicial waiver. Courts would have three days to decide.

Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel framed the bill as protecting minor girls and protecting the rights of parents to “raise their children as they see fit.”

Stargel noted her own experience as a pregnant teenager facing that decision. The Senator had the baby despite her mother’s objection.

Democrats took issue with the legislation.

Sen. Gary Farmer said the bill abrogates the constitutional right of privacy and violates international law, noting that parental notification is already the law.

Sen. Lauren Book said she doesn’t “think the state of Florida should be forcing children to have children.”

Sen. Kevin Rader cited “significant consequences” from parents who oppose their children’s abortions, noting potential “abuse” and being evicted from their homes as fallout.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson cautioned against government control of “family dynamics,” noting that Democratic amendments were turfed in committees.

Sen. Bill Montford called the issue “gut-wrenching.” He said he comes from a conservative background but that as a longtime educator had to deal with teens who were pregnant and did not want their parents to find out.

“There’s some parents that are not parents,” said Montford, a former school principal and superintendent. “There are just some parents that simply cannot or will not make good decisions for their own children.”

No one went as far as Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, who said the bill was part of the Republican “plan to dismantle abortion rights in Florida.”

Republicans defended the legislation.

Sen. Aaron Bean said it was “in the best interest of children,” noting that a “baby … a middle schooler” may be the one facing that abortion decision.

“Let’s let the parents be parents,” Bean said, “and make that decision together.”

Sen. Anitere Flores noted that an abortion is a “major medical procedure … with lifelong effects,” and a “forced conversation” should be required.

Florida voters in 2004 passed a constitutional amendment that led to a requirement for parents to be notified before minors have abortions, but a consent requirement would be more restrictive. The current law has a process in which minors can go to court to avoid notifying their parents about having abortions — a so-called “judicial bypass” that also is part of the consent proposal.

The Florida Supreme Court in 1989 struck down a parental consent law, finding that it violated a right to privacy in the state Constitution. Democrats and Republicans disagreed Thursday about whether the new measure would be found constitutional as it faces what are widely viewed as inevitable legal challenges.

The ACLU issued a blistering statement about the “unconstitutional bill banning abortions for minors unless the minor can convince the state to allow them to have an abortion …  a system where minors will be forced to have children against their will and stripping young people of their constitutionally protected right to end an unintended pregnancy.”

After the vote, Senate President Bill Galvano expressed confidence that the bill would survive an inevitable challenge in the courts, regarding the privacy clause.

“There are myriad reasons why this is a good policy initiative … to empower families to make decisions together on such an important subject,” said Galvano, a lawyer. “I am confident that this legislation will move forward and be successfully upheld.”

But Sen. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat who is a lawyer, said voters in 1980 approved placing a privacy provision in the Florida Constitution and that the privacy rights apply to minors. She and other Democrats also said the current notification requirement means parents and children are having conversations about abortions.

“This bill is not about parental knowledge, conversation or guidance,” she said. “Instead, it is an unconstitutional bill, created to force minors to have children against their will.”

The bill has yet to get a floor hearing in the House, despite that being the more conservative chamber.

However, House action is but a matter of time, Speaker Jose Oliva said Wednesday.

“I’m not particularly interested in the optics of what gets there first or not. I know that the Governor’s eager to sign it. It’ll probably get to him faster at his own request. We’re happy that we’re passing it. We think it’s long overdue. The order in which it gets signed, once it’s a law, it’s a law.”

The bill will have Democratic support.

Rep. Kim Daniels, a self-described “Blue Dog” Democrat from Jacksonville, is co-sponsoring the bill (HB 265) for the second straight year.

Daniels had a botched abortion that required medical attention while in high school, an experience that informs her belief that parents should consent to their children having abortions.

House Democrats, in deference to the divisions in the caucus, have yet to take a collective position on the bill and appear unlikely to do so.

___

The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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