As bills restricting young people’s access to abortion are once again being considered by the Florida Legislature, my thoughts turn to my own children. My kids are well versed in sexual health topics. We’ve had age-appropriate discussions about healthy relationships and sex since they were in elementary school. I hope if Caroline or Jeremiah need help accessing any form of health care, including contraception or abortion, they know they can turn to me.
The fact is nearly all adolescent girls consult their parents before seeking reproductive health care. Most talk to parents about sexual issues and report high levels of connectedness with parents. Most parents know if their teens visit a reproductive health care provider and are often the ones who suggest it. Overall, youth attending family planning clinics report having good relations with parents — which is the ideal.
Nonetheless, in every community, there are youth living in dysfunctional family environments. Requesting permission to access contraception or abortion could exacerbate an already volatile or dysfunctional family situation. Studies show some young people won’t talk to their parents about such needs, especially abortion, for fear of being kicked out of the house or being physically abused (because their parents had beaten them before).
Currently, Florida law requires a parent to be notified if a teenager is getting an abortion. Again, the vast majority of youth has healthy family relationships and involves their parents on their own. However, for those who can’t discuss these things with their parent or guardian, this requirement becomes a huge barrier to care. Requiring a youth to involve a parent cannot transform dysfunctional families into stable ones nor facilitate familial communications. For a young woman living in such a situation, involving her parents puts her at risk.
The law does provide for judicial bypass — a way for a youth to petition the courts for permission in lieu of her parents’, but a young person going this route faces significant obstacles. She may not know judicial bypass is available or not know how to get it. She might not have transportation to travel to the necessary courts. And there is a risk that, even if she successfully managed the process, she could still be denied an abortion by resistant, uninformed, or biased judges.
When a young woman has decided to have an abortion and she cannot involve a parent, she should have support and respect, and her experience should be without undue burden, shame, or pressure. Current law is not in keeping with this.
A bill that would make a bad situation far worse for some youth has passed through committees and will be voted on by the full Florida House on Wednesday, April 17. Filed by Representative Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach), HB 1335 would require a parent to deliver written, notarized consent before a young person could get an abortion. Among other requirements, the parent would have to provide state-issued identification and documents proving parentage. Doctors would be burdened with additional monthly reporting requirements and would face felony prosecution if they failed to comply with all facets of the new rules.
If Grall’s goal is to decrease abortion among youth, she is misguided. Parental involvement laws have no clear impact on birth rates or abortion rates. If Grall truly wants to help teens avoid unintended pregnancy and decrease the need for abortion, she should champion comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, and expansion of family planning services.
Like my Jeremiah and Caroline, Florida’s young people deserve the right to access the full range of reproductive health services they need, which includes abortion care. Let’s work to make sure Florida young people have the freedom to control their own bodies and life path — including the right to have an abortion.