A bill to limit access to abortions is moving quickly in the FL Legislature; opponents call it “a dangerous bill”

Michelle Stern, an FSU student, speaks at press conference in opposition to a bill requiring parental consent for teenagers seeking an abortion.

A parental-consent abortion bill is being fast-tracked in the Florida House and could be one of the first bills taken up by the House in the 2020 session.

In a 12-6 vote on Tuesday, the House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill from Rep. Erin Grall, a Vero Beach Republican, that would require women under the age of 18 to have parental consent before ending a pregnancy. Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their child is seeking an abortion.

The House voted 69-44 for an identical bill last year. But it died in the Senate, where it never reached the floor.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami-Dade County Republican, assigned the new version of the bill (HB 265) to only one committee.

And with Tuesday’s committee vote, it means the legislation is ready for a floor vote, where it is likely to pass when lawmakers begin their annual 60-day session in January.

The question will become how the legislation will fare in the Florida Senate.

“I’m really upset that this bill is being heard in the House today and I’m fearful that they’re going to hear it in the Senate too,” said state Sen. Lori Berman, a Palm Beach County Democrat who was at a press conference held by opponents of the legislation prior to the committee vote.

Berman and other opponents say they see the parental-consent bill as a vehicle for abortion opponents to get the Florida Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices, to overturn a prior ruling that found a 1988 parental-consent law violated the state constitutional privacy provision.

“Make no mistake, this is a test to see how the new members of the court will vote and if they will abrogate Florida’s expanded privacy rights under the guise of parental rights,” Berman said. “This is a dangerous bill to reduce access to reproductive rights.”

In the committee debate, Grall said she had “no control” over the committee assignments for her bill. But she noted the identical bill went through more than seven hours of debate and hearings in the 2019 session in the House.

Grall, a lawyer who said she has prayed outside abortion clinics, said the safety of young women undergoing abortions was one of the reasons for filing the legislation.

“I find it just overwhelmingly tragic that a parent would not have the ability to know whether or not the facility by which their minor daughter goes to obtain an abortion was, in fact, safe,” she said.

She noted her bill contains a process where a minor who did not want to have parental consent could obtain approval from a judge. And the bill requires a lawyer for the minor be appointed 24 hours in advance of the waiver hearing.

House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues, a Lee County Republican who voted for the bill, said he struggles “tremendously” with the concept that children need approval from their parents to get an aspirin from a school nurse or to sign a legal agreement, but do not need it for an abortion.

“What I failed to a comprehend is how a child can’t be given an aspirin by another adult without the consent of the parents…. but that same child can have a surgery by another adult without the parent even knowing about it,” Rodrigues said.

Opponents say the bill violates the privacy rights of young women and could put women at risk, forcing them to seek an illegal abortion if their parents won’t consent.

“It is an undue burden on a young woman’s constitutional right to determine for herself whether and when to become a parent,” said Kara Gross, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “No child should be forced to have a child against her will. There is no greater governmental intrusion.”

Terry Cleeland, representing the Florida League of Women Voters of Florida, said “research shows that most young people discuss this with an adult when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.”

“Those who opt not to disclose that usually have a good reason. Parental consent may put girls in danger, given the reality that many girls come from dysfunctional or volatile family situations,” she said.

Democratic House and Senate members and student activists raised similar objections at the press conference prior to the bill hearing.

Michelle Stern, a senior at Florida State University, said the bill “is really just the first part of a disturbing plan to have our constitutional right to privacy reinterpreted to no longer safeguard access to abortion.”

“The introduction of this bill is just an attempt to use young people as political pawns in a very dangerous game,” Stern said. “This is wrong, and speaking to you as a young person myself, I find it deeply offensive.”

A similar bill (SB 404), filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, has yet to be heard in the Senate.

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