FL set to create some of the most restrictive barriers in the nation for teens seeking abortions

Some 8,000 protestors on both sides of the abortion issue paraded for legislators who convened a special session of the FL Legislature in 1989. Photo by Mark Foley. State Library & Archives of Florida.

Florida may become one of only six states that requires both the notification and consent of parents if their teenage daughter wants to have an abortion.

It’s a striking data point that has real-life consequences – potentially impacting women across Florida.

And it appears that the Florida Legislature is moving toward that goal in 2020.

State lawmakers — who begin their annual 60-day session on Tuesday — are fast-tracking legislation that would require women under the age of 18 to have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before ending a pregnancy.

Already:

  • Florida law requires parents to be notified if their child is seeking an abortion.
  • Florida is one of 37 states that requires parental involvement in decisions impacting a minor’s reproductive rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights and collects detailed information about the procedure in the U.S.
  • Florida is now one of 11 states that requires parental notification if a minor is seeking an abortion, according to Guttmacher. Another 21 states require only parental consent.

That data leads up to just five states — the group that Florida is likely to join if the Legislature passes a parental notification bill and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it as expected – which require both parental notification and consent.

Those states, now requiring both parental consent and notification for abortions involving minors, are Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming, according to Guttmacher.

What comes next

The Florida House of Representatives is already prepared to take up a parental-consent bill (HB 265), sponsored by Republican Rep. Erin Grall of Vero Beach Republican. The bill cleared its only House committee in the fall and is now ready for a floor vote.

Last year, the House passed a similar bill, but the legislation stalled in the Senate.

“The greater challenge will be to pass this bill out of the Florida Senate but we are very hopeful this will happen this year because of the Senate president’s support,” according to the Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative group that opposes abortion.

In late October, Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said he supports the legislation and he expected the parental-consent legislation to move earlier in the Senate than it did last year. Here’s a Florida Phoenix story on those comments.

The Senate Health Policy Committee approved a parental-consent bill (SB 404), sponsored by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland, in December.

It is now awaiting a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. If approved there, it would face a final hearing in the Rules Committee before it could reach the Senate floor.

Both the Senate and House bills would allow teenagers to go to court and seek a waiver from the parental-consent requirement. A similar judicial waiver is part of the existing parental-notification abortion law.

If Florida approves a parental-consent law this year, it would be in line with a number of states led by conservative leaders that are seeking greater restrictions on reproductive rights, according to the Guttmacher group.

“In 2019, conservative state legislators raced to enact an unprecedented wave of bans on all, most or some abortions, and by the end of the year, 25 new abortion bans had been signed into law, primarily in the South and Midwest,” Guttmacher said.

But Guttmacher also noted other states — such as Illinois, Nevada and New York — are “moving in the opposition direction.”

“This year (2019), 36 measures that protect abortion have been enacted, along with 46 policies intended to decrease maternal mortality, 13 that increase access to contraceptive coverage and 17 that improve sex education,” Guttmacher said. “

Also, governors in five states vetoed abortion restrictions. The new abortion protections are particularly notable: More were enacted this year than in the entire previous decade.”

How the debate in Florida will likely play out

In Florida, the debate over the parental-consent legislation is framed like this:

Supporters say the bill gives parents a greater role in a medical decision that could have lasting medical or psychological impacts on their daughters. They note parental consent is required for teenagers in other circumstances, such as getting tattoos or receiving an aspirin at school.

Opponents say the legislation violates the state constitutional right to privacy and puts young women into dangerous situations if they live in dysfunctional families where abuse or violence is present.

And it’s Florida’s constitutional right to privacy — approved by voters in 1980 — that makes the legal landscape for abortion bills unique in the nation’s third largest state.

Lawmakers have previously passed a parental-consent law. But the Florida Supreme Court struck it down in 1989, ruling that it violated the state’s constitutional privacy provision.

A parental-notification law was also rejected by the state courts. But that changed in 2004, when voters approved a constitutional amendment providing an exception for parental notification. Former Gov. Jeb Bush signed the parental-notification measure into law in 2005.

Opponents of the new parental-consent legislation say they see it as way for abortion opponents to create a legal test for the privacy clause in the state Constitution. They argue that a state Supreme Court — dominated by conservative justices – may use a new law to reinterpret the privacy clause and that could lead to a host of future restrictions on reproductive rights in Florida.

Opponents cite remarks made by state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Marion County Republican who opposes abortion, at a meeting of the Christian Family Coalition in August.

“We have some new court members, we need another look at what the privacy clause means and is for and I contend on the issue of parents taking responsibility of their children that parental consent is an easy argument for us,” Baxley told the group.

The Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which opposes the parental-consent bills pending in the 2020 Legislature, says the legislation “will further endanger our already at-risk young people.”

“But the truth is worse than that. Passing this legislation is just the first step in a much larger and more alarming plan to have our constitutional right to privacy re-interpreted to no longer safeguard access to abortion,” the group said in a statement.