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Florida on path to require anyone under 18 to obtain parent’s permission for abortions

Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward County and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol, Jan. 22, 2020, in Tallahassee, Florida. The bill requires girls to get a parent's consent before having an abortion..
Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward County and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol, Jan. 22, 2020, in Tallahassee, Florida. The bill requires girls to get a parent's consent before having an abortion.. (AP Photo)

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Legislature is close to approving a bill requiring girls under 18 to obtain permission for an abortion from a parent. Passage would be a political win for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had pushed for the measure, during an election year when Republicans hope to deliver the state to President Donald Trump.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week. If the House approves it as expected in coming weeks – the governor already said he will sign it into law – Florida would become the 27th state to impose parental consent legislation for abortions. Critics said the measure could compel children to give birth to children against their will.

Democrats unsuccessfully introduced amendments this week to soften the bill. Supporters said Florida’s adult parents should have the right to raise their children, including affecting the outcome of a pregnancy.

“This would restore the proper principle of that fundamental liberty as recognized by our Supreme Court and make Florida a place where parental rights are once again viewed as fundamental,” KrisAnne Hall, a conservative radio host and former Florida prosecutor, said during a hearing.

It would also be the second time Florida passed such a bill, after the state Supreme Court struck down a previous effort a generation ago. The bill’s supporters are confident that the court is now sufficiently conservative that a legal challenge would be unsuccessful.

The lawyer for the pregnant girl in that 1989 case, Jerri Blair of Leesburg, Florida, said such cases are heart-rending and ethically complex. Blair said changes in the new legislative proposals – such as requiring the state to appoint a lawyer for minors seeking abortions in court – offer some confidence it might withstand legal challenges.

“This is not an easy thing,” Blair said in an interview. “The legal system wants things to be done in an orderly way that is all the same for everybody, but you can’t do that with this.”

The Republican-controlled Senate was expected to vote next week on its version of the bill, SB 404. The bill would prohibit physicians from performing an abortion on a girl without consent from a parent or guardian, except in a medical emergency. A minor could ask a judge for a waiver, depending on the child’s age, intelligence, economic development and ability to accept responsibility.

The House version of the bill, HB 265, sailed through its one committee hearing and is expected to face a floor vote soon. Republicans also control the House in Florida.

DeSantis has cited the anti-abortion bill as one of his top legislative priorities. The abortion legislation was an unusually divisive subject to tackle during a presidential election year, when many Florida lawmakers themselves also will be campaigning to keep their seats. A sensational new anti-abortion measure could energize pro-choice Democrats and women’s rights advocates in Florida.

The new bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she was confident the new effort would hold up to the court’s concerns. The Florida Supreme Court’s concerns in the 1989 case focused on the privacy of pregnant minors.

Florida already required that parents be notified when child wants an abortion, except in the case of a medical emergency, in which the physician can delay the notification.

“Consent is a little bit more of a conversation within that family unit,” Stargel said. “You still have the same bypass process that you have with parental notice.” During a committee hearing, she said the bill protects the “right of parents to raise their children as they see fit without government intrusion.”

In 2009, 476 minors filed a petition with the court, and 27 of those were dismissed, according to the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator. Nine years later, in 2018, only 193 minors filed for a notification petition, and 11 of those were dismissed.

Opponents of the efforts say privacy protections in Florida’s Constitution should derail such bills.

“We are lucky to have a strong right to privacy in Florida’s state constitution that has protected some of these most dangerous bills from actually becoming enacted into law,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who previously served as a senior director for Planned Parenthood.

Blair, the lawyer, said she still talks to the teenager who was never publicly identified and whose pregnancy led to the earlier Supreme Court challenge in Florida.

“She was in a very, very difficult situation,” Blair said. “I’m very happy. I know that she continues to feel she made the right choice when she did what she did.”

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at khayes@freshtakeflorida.com