The Phoenix Flyer

Florida House votes to require parental consent for teen girls seeking abortion; similar legislation ruled unconstitutional in 1989

By: - April 17, 2019 10:11 pm
Florida Capitol

The Historic Capitol, foreground, and Florida Capitol buildings. Photo Colin Hackley

A major move to restrict reproductive rights in Florida advanced on Wednesday evening when the Florida House voted 69-44 to require teenage girls to get parental consent before having an abortion.

The bill (HB 1335) would add a parental consent requirement to an existing state law that says women under 18 have to notify their parents or guardians if they are having an abortion. The new bill would require women to produce a notarized document from their parents and require doctors to file an affidavit confirming the patient’s identity.

Like the notification law, the bill would allow women to ask a court to waive the parental consent requirement. It would exempt teenagers who are already mothers, as well as women facing medical emergencies, if a doctor agrees the threat precludes the typical parental consent requirement. The bill would also require that young women have a court-appointed lawyer if they choose to seek a waiver.

The fate of the legislation is less certain in the Senate. A similar bill (SB 1774) cleared the Health Policy Committee in a 5-4 vote earlier this month. But it still must pass two more committees before it reaches the Senate floor, although the bill could be withdrawn from one or both committees.

If the Legislature passes the parental consent bill, it could set up an opportunity for the Florida Supreme Court to reassess a key 1989 decision that ruled an abortion-consent law for minors was unconstitutional because it violated privacy provisions in the state Constitution. The new state Supreme Court, with three justices appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is far more conservative than the previous court which upheld the right to privacy.

The vote for the bill was largely along party lines, with the Republican majority in support, and opposition from the Democrats.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who opposed the bill, said the legislation would not reduce abortions in the state.

“This bill is not going to do it,” she said. “If anything it could even increase the rate of unsafe abortion,  adverse pregnancies. And the reality, too, is it’s not going to build a healthy relationship between a parent and child, especially if the parent isn’t even there anymore.”

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who voted against the bill, questioned why lawmakers were voting for a bill that could be unconstitutional, while ignoring measures that could reduce unintended pregnancies.

“Can’t we all agree that we should be teaching young people comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education so that we don’t have to find young people in this position,” Smith said. “That’s not the bill we are debating, but it could be.”

But Republicans said they believe the bill could survive a new constitutional test. And they said parents should be given the right to consent to an abortion just as they must approve other medical procedures for their children.

“I believe that the state does have a compelling interest in protecting the immature minor, in preserving the integrity of the family and in guarding the fundamental right of parents to raise their children,” said Rep. Erin Grall, the Vero Beach Republican who sponsored the legislation.

Opponents, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, have cited research which shows that most teenagers who choose to end their pregnancies already consult their parents about the decision. A national survey by the Guttmacher Institute found 90 percent of 14-year-olds and 74 percent of 15-year-olds involve at least one parent when considering an abortion.

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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.