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Abortion bill seeks parental notification

TALLAHASSEE — Kelli Stargel still remembers what it was like to be 17 years old and pregnant.

"I was literally in fear," she said. "But I mustered the courage to tell my mother."

It is a conversation that doesn't happen enough, the Florida lawmaker said, and unlike her situation, too often ends with an abortion.

Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, pushed a measure Tuesday to make it harder for a pregnant teenager to get an abortion without parental consent.

Her legislation, and a companion Senate bill, takes aim at state court judges — who grant minors waivers from parental notice 95 percent of the time under provisions in a 2005 law.

The measure, HB 1449 and SB 2446, would require a judge to determine by the elevated standard of "clear and convincing evidence" that a minor is "sufficiently mature" to choose termination. Another provision prevents so-called judge shopping by requiring a pregnant girl to make the petition only at the local courthouse; requires a parent's signature get notarized for consent; and allows longer delays, up to three weeks, for final approval.

"The fallacy of the law we have is it's very easy to go around," said Stargel, whose measure is supported by the conservative Florida Family Action and the Florida Catholic Conference.

The simultaneous House and Senate hearings marked one of the first major legislative fights about a hot-button social issue this session. A handful of abortion bills were filed this year, but top Republican lawmakers appear reticent to delve into debate, especially in the final weeks before adjournment.

"It's not that conservatives are walking away from the issue. There are much more pressing, salient matters before us," said Rick Wilson, a campaign consultant to Senate President Jeff Atwater, who is running for chief financial officer.

Abortion rights advocates and leading Democrats, such as Rep. Jim Waldman of Coconut Creek, suggest the proposed restrictions would make the process "more onerous on a child and possibly more devastating."

Daria Dawson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the bill doesn't address the heart of the problem: unintended teenage pregnancies.

In particular, critics object to the requirement for minors to petition the county courthouse. Current law allows the request in any circuit court within the larger region of the district court of appeal.

"We feel that it undermines their anonymity," said Jessica Lowe-Minor, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood in Florida.

The House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Committee added a measure that a judge determine whether a minor is aware of the "shortage of unborn babies available for adoption." It passed 11-4 but defied party lines with a moderate Republican and a Catholic Democrat switching sides.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee postponed a vote after Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, voiced objections, leaving it without enough support to pass.

"To me, the whole thing is just way overboard," Jones said.

Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Abortion bill seeks parental notification 04/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 9:31pm]
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