As bills restricting teen access to abortion are being considered again by the Florida Legislature, my thoughts turn to my own children. With a reproductive rights advocate as a parent, my kids are well versed in sexual health topics. We’ve had age-appropriate discussions about healthy relationships and sex since they were in elementary school. I hope if Caroline or Jeremiah need help accessing any form of health care, including contraception or abortion, they know they can turn to me.
Most teen girls talk to parents about sexual issues and report high levels of connectedness with parents. Most parents know if their teens visit a reproductive health care provider and are often the ones who suggest it. Overall, teens attending family planning clinics report having good relations with parents.
Yet there are teens living in dysfunctional family environments. Requesting permission to access contraception or abortion could exacerbate an already volatile or dysfunctional family situation. Studies show some teens won’t talk to their parents about such needs, especially abortion, because they fear being kicked out of the house or physically abused.
Florida law requires a parent to be notified at least 48 hours before their teenager receives an abortion. Most girls involve their parents on their own. But for those who can’t discuss these things with their parent or guardian, this requirement becomes a huge barrier to care. Requiring a teen to involve a parent cannot transform dysfunctional families into stable ones nor facilitate familial communications. For a girl living in such a situation, involving her parents puts her at risk.
The law provides a way for a teen to petition the courts for permission in lieu of notifying her parents, but a young person faces significant obstacles. She may not know judicial bypass is available or how to get it. She might not have transportation. And there is a risk she could still be denied an abortion by resistant, uninformed or biased judges.
Legislation (HB 1335) approved by a House subcommittee this week would make a bad situation for some teens far worse. It would require a teen’s parent to deliver written, notarized consent before the young person could get an abortion. Among other requirements, the teen’s parent also would have to provide documents proving parentage.
Parental involvement laws have no clear impact on birth rates or abortion rates. If these legislators want to help teens avoid unintended pregnancy and decrease the need for abortion, they should champion comprehensive sex education, access to contraception and expansion of family planning services.
Florida’s young people deserve the right to access the full range of reproductive health services they need, which includes abortion care. Let’s work to make sure Florida teens have the freedom to control their own bodies and life path -- including the right to have an abortion.
Amy Weintraub is a St. Petersburg mother and reproductive rights program director for Progress Florida.