FL Senate panel backs new abortion restrictions on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Democratic Rep. Amy Mercado addresses lawmakers and advocates at a Roe v. Wade rally at the Florida Capitol. Credit: Lloyd Dunkelberger

On the 47th anniversary of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, a divided Florida Senate committee on Tuesday advanced legislation that would create new legal barriers for young women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

In a 9-7 vote, with Democrats in opposition, the Senate Rules Committee voted for a measure (SB 404) that requires women under the age of 18 to have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before ending a pregnancy. The bill is now ready for a floor vote.

Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who supports the legislation, said he expects the bill to be up for a preliminary debate next week in the Senate, with a final vote in the first week of February. A similar measure (HB 265) is awaiting a floor vote in the House.

The Senate action came as advocates for reproductive health rights held a noon rally at the state Capitol to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court establishing the right to an abortion.

“We fight for national protection, knowing that right here in Florida we must protect our own version of Roe v. Wade,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said at the rally.

A shift to a more conservative Florida Supreme Court, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, is putting reproductive health rights in jeopardy, Eskamani said.

“We are faced with one of the biggest challenges for abortion access in our nation’s history,” said Eskamani, who formerly worked for Planned Parenthood.

Florida already requires teenagers to notify their parents if they are seeking an abortion.

But Sen. Kelli Stargel, the Lakeland Republican who is sponsoring the Senate parental-consent bill, said requiring consent will lead to more parental involvement in the decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy.

“I think it’s huge with regards to a parent-child relationship to include that parent,” Stargel said. “This bill encourages the parent to be a participant in the decision-making process of this child.”

Opponents say the bill violates the unique privacy provisions in the Florida Constitution, which have provided the basis for a prior court decision striking down a 1988 parental-consent law.

“It’s harmful, discriminatory and likely unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution,” said Madeline Brezin, a lawyer representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, a national advocacy group for abortion rights.

Stargel said she believes the proposal will pass a new court review because of added provisions, including the right for a minor to ask a court to waive the parental-consent requirement. The young woman would also have the right to free legal counsel. The lack of legal counsel was one of the reasons the Florida Supreme Court overturned the previous parental-consent law.

But Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat who voted against the bill, said seeking a judge’s approval to have an abortion without parental consent can be a “complicated” and “complex” process, “making young girls feel afraid and nervous to engage with it.”

Book, a longtime advocate for sexual-assault victims, also raised concerns about the impact of the consent requirement on minors who have been subject to abuse or an assault.

“I think that this can be very dangerous and there are unintended consequences that will come from a measure such as this,” she said.

Stargel said requiring parental involvement, including consent, could help young women who are being victimized.

“I think it protects survivors so that you cannot continue to cover up a situation by repeated abortions and allowing the abuse to continue,” she said.

Here is a previous Florida Phoenix story on the parental-consent legislation.