No law should force a child to have a child against their will; there’s no greater governmental intrusion

November 21, 2019 7:00 am

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If you think it’s unconscionable for politicians to force children to have children, you should oppose bills being debated in the Florida Legislature.

These innocuously titled “parental consent bills” will decrease the likelihood that minors who are pregnant will confide in their parents and result in them seeking unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.

Under Senate bill 404 and House bill 265, if a parent or legal guardian won’t allow their child to end their pregnancy, and the minor isn’t able to go to court or isn’t able to convince a judge, they will be forced to have a child.

No law should force a child to have a child against their will. There is no greater governmental intrusion.

State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, filed the bills.

Sponsors and supporters of these bills often argue that they are necessary to ensure parental involvement. This is simply untrue.

Florida already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion. Let me repeat this because it seems like the sponsors conveniently forget to inform the public: Florida law already requires that parents be notified of their child’s intent to have an abortion.

In 2004, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature “to require by general law for notification to a parent before a minor ends an unintended pregnancy. Florida voters did not authorize the Legislature to enact laws requiring parental consent, only parental notification.

In 2005, the Legislature enacted its parental notification statute. Thus, Florida law already ensures parents can be involved and support and guide their minor through this decision.

These bills pose the greatest threat to at-risk youth.

Young people who make the decision to end an unintended pregnancy most often make their decision in consultation with caring parents and medical professionals.

Unfortunately, not all children in Florida have nurturing and supportive parents or legal guardians who they can turn to. It is an unfortunate reality that thousands of children are abused each year by their parents.

Last year alone, according to the Department of Children and Families website, there were over 130,000 state investigations of child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Moreover, there are over 20,000 abandoned, abused, or neglected kids in Florida’s foster care system whose legal guardian is the State of Florida.

These bills would allow abusive parents and the State of Florida to force already abused children to have children.

Moreover, if the bills pass, children from nurturing families who would otherwise reach out to their parents for support, will be less likely to involve them if they fear their parents will refuse to allow them to end their pregnancy. The unintended consequence of these bills is that minors will be less likely to seek parental involvement.

It is unlikely that a pregnant minor (who may not be old enough to drive) is going to draw further attention to themselves by cutting school to walk to the nearest courthouse to divulge to multiple strangers – court personnel, lawyers, a judge — that they’ve been sexually abused and are now pregnant.

Approximately one out of three girls under 18 are sexually abused. The reality is that the minor will seek to end the pregnancy on their own – without the help and assistance of parents or medical professionals, in a dangerous way.

Finally, mandating parental consent violates the Florida Constitution, which contains explicit privacy protections that are broader and afford greater privacy protections than even the U.S. Constitution.

We have been down this path before.

In 1988, the Legislature passed a parental consent statute. The Florida Supreme Court, recognizing the Florida Constitution’s greater privacy rights, struck down the parental consent requirement as unconstitutional. Our legislators should not be wasting taxpayer dollars by attempting to pass bills that have already been struck down as unconstitutional.

The reality is that if a young person who is pregnant does not want to have a child, they will find a way to make sure they don’t, and if they aren’t able to access the care they need with the support of their parents, they will utilize a less safe method.

For these reasons, so called “parental consent laws” are consistently opposed by leading healthcare professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

You may be wondering why politicians would propose these bills if the medical field overwhelmingly agrees that such bills will further harm children.

Politicians are hoping to pass these innocuously titled, blatantly unconstitutional bills in the hopes that the Florida Supreme Court will ignore precedent and narrow Florida’s constitutional right to privacy.

Regardless of your views on whether an adult should be able to end a pregnancy, we should all be able to agree that laws that force children to have children against their will are not in any child’s best interest.

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Kara Gross
Kara Gross

Kara Gross is the legislative director and senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida