Abortion parental consent requirement fast-tracked in Florida House

The legislation would enact a consent requirement for minors.
Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion.
Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, speaks on the floor of the Florida House. Grall is sponsoring a bill for the second time that would require parental consent for minors to obtain an abortion. [   ]
Published Oct. 22, 2019|Updated Oct. 22, 2019

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would require parental consent for minors to obtain abortions is moving again through the Florida Legislature, fast-tracked by a House committee for a floor debate though it may face more roadblocks clearing the Senate.

The bill — HB 265 — would add a requirement that minors must obtain a parent or guardian’s consent to have an abortion, except in some exceptions such as medical emergencies or situations where the minor is already a parent. Florida law currently requires that minors notify their parents or guardians before an abortion — or obtain a judicial waiver to bypass that requirement.

Though the bill drew heated debate during the most recent legislative session and failed to clear the more moderate Senate, the House Health and Human Services committee voted 12-6 Tuesday, largely along party lines, to advance the bill through a single committee stop. The move sets the bill up for a floor debate in the House for the second year in a row — and speeds up a legislative review process that sometimes requires three or four committees to vet bills before they reach the full chamber.

Supporters of the bill said it has been heard before, making additional legislative review moot, and cast the legislation as a way to ensure families make such decisions together and ensure abortions are done more safely.

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“I find it just overwhelmingly tragic that a parent would not have the ability to know whether or not the facility by which their minor daughter goes to obtain an abortion was in fact safe, was in fact reputable, was clean, that the provider themselves had the best interest in the medical outcome of the girl,” said Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, the bill’s main House sponsor.

Grall added that she prayed at a local abortion clinic before bringing the bill back to lawmakers this year, and that the bill would “put parents back in this conversation with their daughters.”

But opponents of the bill say the requirement for consent will erode access to abortions and violates the state’s constitutional right to privacy construed to protect the right to an abortion. They also contend the bill, which will be debated against the backdrop of an election-year session, is meant to play to the Republican Party’s base and put the issue of abortion before a more conservative state Supreme Court.

“It doesn’t surprise me that my Republican colleagues are looking for their political mailers for this election cycle,” Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said at a press conference before the afternoon hearing, alongside about a dozen other Democratic lawmakers.

Abortion in Florida has remained a contentious and oft-challenged issue. Though the state’s courts have held on multiple occasions that a broad state constitutional right to privacy applies to a woman’s pregnancy, laws around accessing abortions have regularly sparked legal dispute.

A previous law that required parental consent was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 1989. Courts also struck down a law requiring parental notification in 2003, though voters the following year approved a constitutional amendment creating a similar law.

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More recently, the 2015 Legislature passed a bill that would impose a 24-hour waiting period before abortions, though the law almost immediately became snarled in several court decisions and appeals.

Though some pro-choice and pro-life activists — and on some occasions, lawmakers — have suggested that the bill could revive the question of abortion in the courts, Grall demurred on the implications for the judiciary during the bill’s hearing Tuesday. She did argue that, in her view, privacy protections for minors should be weighed differently.

“I do believe the privacy of minors is not unfettered as it is for adults,” said Grall. “You see that through many other mechanisms in the way we address and deal with minors in our state and the permissions that required for every other surgical procedure.”

But some Democratic lawmakers on the committee warned passing the legislation would be tantamount to inviting a legal challenge.

“We are talking about a fundamental right” to privacy, said Rep. Nick Duran, D-Miami, cautioning the bill “will probably be litigated in the courts for several reasons we brought up today.”

During the two-hour hearing, nearly 70 people testified before lawmakers, almost equally split in support and opposition.

Guerdy Remy of Altamonte Springs questioned how the bill would affect minors who are not in contact with their parents or guardians or cannot rely on them, recounting her own experience getting an abortion when she was 17.

Remy, 49, said she moved to New York from Haiti when she was young, after her mother was murdered and her father became a suspect. The grandmother who took them in was not their legal guardian, which she said would have put her in a quandary if she had sought her abortion under the proposed law.

“I could’ve been kicked out with a child or a pregnancy and been homeless,” she said after the meeting. “There’s so many things I’ve could’ve gone wrong.”

But Julie Tamayo, 36, of Tampa, said she regretted the two abortions she had when she was 15 and 17 growing up in Cuba, and that parents should have a say.

“A young person does not have the maturity to be able to confront the serious consequences,” she said in Spanish through a translator, adding that she has had infections and has been unable to have children. “The parents should be involved.”

It is unclear how much traction the legislation may gain in the Senate. The bill passed the House last year but failed to clear the upper chamber after it stalled in committees. The bill’s Senate counterpart SB 404, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has been referred to three committees though it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The bill is nevertheless expected to be the most significant change to the state’s abortion laws to be debated next year. Another bill before lawmakers would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat is detected but is unlikely to be heard amid controversy that has followed its sponsor Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola.

The next legislative session begins Jan. 14.