Despite protests, a parental-consent law for minors seeking abortions could become a reality in 2020

By: - October 30, 2019 7:00 am

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 is moving closer to requiring minors seeking an abortion to get consent from a parent or legal guardian, with top Republican leaders in the Legislature signaling approval for a parental-consent law.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to sign parental-consent legislation approved by the House and Senate.

Abortion rights advocates are vehemently opposed, while abortion opponents hope to test the legislation before the reconfigured Florida Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices.

Parental-consent legislation failed in the 2019 session, but the state House has already fast-tracked the bill for the 2020 session, which begins in January.

And Senate President Bill Galvano said Tuesday he supports the parental-consent bill and expects it to move through the Senate in the 2020 session.

The Republican Senate president’s comments, which were made at the Associated Press’s legislative planning session, are important because the measure stalled earlier this year in the Senate, although it passed the House in a 69-44 vote.

The House has already taken up the bill – called the Parental Notice of and Consent for Abortion Act.

It states that: “A physician must obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian before performing or inducing the termination of a pregnancy of a minor.”

The legislation also outlines that, “The consenting parent or legal guardian shall provide to the physician a copy of a government-issued proof of identification and written documentation establishing that he or she is the lawful parent or legal guardian of the minor. The parent or legal guardian shall certify in a signed, dated, notarized statement, initialed on each page, that he or she consents to the termination of a pregnancy of the minor.”

The legislation has some exemptions.

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved the latest version of the bill (HB 265) in a 12-6 vote earlier this month. The House bill is now ready for a floor vote when lawmakers begin their annual session on Jan. 14.

Galvano, a Bradenton lawyer, said the Senate bill (SB 404) has been referred to the same three legislative committees as last year. The 2019 bill passed the Senate Health Policy Committee in a narrow vote, but was never taken up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it died.

Galvano said the Senate bill, sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, will be heard first in the Health Policy Committee again.

“My expectation is that you’ll probably see that bill heard earlier this session than it was last session, which will give it an opportunity to…move through the process,” Galvano said.

Although he stopped short of predicting the legislation’s passage, Galvano said: “I’ve given the senators a lot of discretion and will continue to empower them. And, you know, the bill has its (committee) references, and we’ll go through the process as the senators see fit.”

Other legislation could impose even more restrictions on reproductive rights in the 2020 session.

Rep. Mike Hill, a Pensacola Republican, has filed a bill (HB 271) that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which would be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Galvano said he tries not “to call balls and strikes” on bills before lawmakers begin working on those issues.

“All of those issues will have to be vetted through, with the senators and the (bill) sponsors,” Galvano said.

Galvano said he did review the parental-consent abortion bill, which would require women under the age of 18 to receive approval from their parents or guardians before undergoing the procedure, and he supports it.

But he said he has not reviewed the other bills impacting a woman’s reproductive rights. “I don’t see the others getting much traction in the Senate,” he said.

Opponents say the passage of a parental-consent bill, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely to sign, could set up a legal challenge that could lead to future restrictions on reproductive rights in Florida.

The Legislature approved a parental-consent law in 1988. But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the law, ruling it violated the unique right to privacy in the state Constitution. Lawmakers later passed a law requiring parental notification for teenagers seeking an abortion and the law remains in effect.

Lawmakers who oppose the parental-consent bill say it is unconstitutional and unnecessary since most young women involve their parents or guardians in their health-care decisions. They also say requiring consent could lead some teenagers to seek an illegal abortion because they fear the reaction of their parents.

“These laws have been shown to put the most at-risk youth in even more danger,” Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani said at a press conference earlier this month. “But if this bill becomes law in Florida it will put all of our abortion rights at risk.”

State Sen. Lori Berman, a Palm Beach County Democrat, said, “This is a dangerous bill to reduce access to reproductive rights.”

Supporters of the bill say consent is necessary because teenagers are not fully developed adults and they need parental guidance. They note the state requires parental consent for a variety of other instances, including taking medication while at school or signing a legal contract.

Abortion opponents also support moving new legislation to test the reconfigured Florida Supreme Court, which is now dominated by conservative justices.

At an August meeting of the Christian Family Coalition, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said a new parental-consent law would provide an opportunity for the state’s highest court to re-evaluate its interpretation of the state’s constitutional privacy clause.

“We have some new court members, we need another look at what the privacy clause means…in a way that could open the door for many other accomplishments that save lives,” Baxley said.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.