FL Senate panel backs parental-consent abortion bill

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.

Teenagers will have to secure the approval of their parents before they have an abortion under a bill that cleared the Senate Health Policy Committee on Tuesday.

The 6-3 vote, along party lines with the Democrats in opposition, advanced a bill (SB 404) that would require women under the age of 18 to have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before ending a pregnancy. Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their child is seeking an abortion.

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

Opponents of the legislation say it could provide a vehicle for a more conservative Florida Supreme Court to overturn a 1989 ruling that found a parental-consent law violated the state constitutional privacy provision.

“It is an undue burden on young woman’s constitutional right to determine for herself whether and when to become a parent,” Kara Gross, legislative director for the ACLU of Florida, told the Senate panel. “If a parent won’t consent and the minor isn’t able to go to court, or isn’t able to convince a judge, under this bill, the child will be forced to have a child. No child should be forced to have a child against her will. There is no greater governmental intrusion.”

But Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, urged senators not to “fall for the scary scenarios and fear tactics,” noting 21 states have parental-consent laws.

“This bill does not violate Florida’s right to privacy law. The Supreme Court got it wrong in 1989. Here in the state of Florida, parental consent and parental notification are constitutional,” Verdugo said. “Notification is not enough. In many instances, parents were notified of the abortion after it occurs. That’s why we need parental consent.”

The Health Policy Committee heard nearly one and a half hours of public testimony before voting on the bill.

Opponents said the legislation violated the state’s unique constitutional right to privacy and would put young women into dangerous situations if they lived in dysfunctional families in which abuse or violence was present.

Supporters said the bill is necessary to give parents a greater role in a medical decision that could have lasting medical or psychological repercussions for their daughters.

“You cannot get a tattoo and you cannot get body piercing unless you have the parental consent if you are under the age of 18,” said Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Brevard County Republican who voted for the bill.

“This to me is just common sense for parenting to make sure that I know what my child is up to. We’re still obligated to our child up to the age of 18,” Mayfield said. “And how can we be responsible and obligated if we don’t know what is happening in something as serious as having a medical procedure and an abortion?”

Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat who voted against the bill, said she was worried about the bill’s effect on young women who are victims of abuse or human trafficking.

“By passing this bill, we’re going to put Florida’s young girls in a really tough position, and I don’t want to make any mistakes,” Book said. “No matter how many barriers that governments have placed on abortion access, whether across the globe or in our United States, abortion still happens, and it always will happen.”

“But something really, I believe, scary happens when you create restrictive laws on abortion access. When you put young girls and women in a desperate position, abortion gets pushed into the shadows and it becomes very, very dangerous,” Book said.

The Senate bill, which is sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, next moves to the Judiciary Committee. It also must clear the Rules Committee before the measure can advance to the Senate floor.

The Florida Phoenix previously reported on a House bill (HB 265) that is being fast-tracked. It is ready for a floor vote when lawmakers convene in their 2020 session next month.