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Abortion parental consent bill passes early obstacle

The bill would add a requirement that minors must also obtain a parent or guardian’s consent for an abortion, not just notify them.

TALLAHASSEE — A key Florida Senate committee voted Tuesday, along party lines, to advance a bill that would require parental consent for abortion, overcoming a procedural hurdle by Democrats last month to stall the legislation. The 6-3 vote also begins moving what is likely to be one of the legislative session’s most controversial bills through the more moderate Senate, which looks likelier this year to pass the proposal.

Florida law requires parents or guardians be notified before minors can obtain an abortion — or that those minors secure a judicial waiver to bypass that requirement in cases like medical emergencies. SB 404, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would add a requirement that minors must also obtain a parent or guardian’s consent, not just notify them.

Opponents have decried the bill as a “Trojan horse” that would erode access to abortions and is meant to put the issue — protected in Florida by a constitutional right to privacy — before a more conservative state Supreme Court. But supporters of the bill said Tuesday the bill is meant to protect families and involve parents or guardians in a minor’s decision.

Most of the committee’s meeting Tuesday was spent on public testimony: Dozens of supporters and opponents of the bill lined up in the aisles, granted two minutes each, to urge lawmakers to vote their way on the bill.

Some shouted. Others wept. Many, despite the objections of committee chair Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, broke out into applause after comments on both sides.

“The parents have a fundamental right to care for the child and make decisions for their healthcare,” said Joan Fowinkle, a retired high school teacher in Leon County, who spoke in favor of the bill. “The state must respect the rights of good parents to fulfill their duties toward their children as their conscience dictates.”

Kara Gross, a lawyer for the ACLU, said implementing a consent requirement would push abortions underground.

“This bill has nothing to do with ensuring a parent has knowledge of their minors’ pregnancy — Florida statutes already require a parent to be notified prior to an abortion,” she said. “This bill won’t prevent abortions, it will prevent safe and legal abortions.”

Many of those identifying as pro-life cited the Bible in their appeals to lawmakers: “Abortion is child sacrifice,” Bonnie Coffey Cannone of Abolish Abortion Florida told senators. “Exodus 20:13 states you shall not murder. Genesis 9:6 states whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed for God made man in his own image.”

“We have to remember that this country is based on freedom of religion — what the Bible says doesn’t necessarily coincide with what we should put into our lives,” countered Florida State University student Benjamin Robbins. “What if they’re not ready to be parents? What if they won’t be able to raise that baby the way they should be raised?”

The committee’s four Democratic lawmakers ran out the clock during the bill’s last hearing with more than a dozen failed amendments. But with one Democrat missing at Tuesday’s meeting for health reasons, the remaining three — Sens. Lauren Book, D-Plantation; Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg — could not stop the committee from taking a vote for a second time Tuesday.

“Abortion still happens — it always will happen,” Book said, before lawmakers voted on the bill. “But something really scary happens when you create restrictive laws on abortion access, when you put young girls and women in a desperate position. Abortion gets pushed into the shadows and it becomes very, very dangerous.”

But Stargel, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would do more than the existing notification requirement by ensuring a “conversation” inside families. She pointed to her own experience as “an unwed teenager who was pregnant” considering an abortion before she decided against it.

“When I told [my mother] I wanted to have my child, she supported me,” Stargel said.

An associated public records bill, which would shield the identities of minors seeking judicial waivers, passed the committee unanimously with little debate.

The bill has two more hearings before the Senate’s Judiciary and Rules committees before it can be considered by all senators on the floor. Its House companion, HB 265, has already sailed through the more conservative House’s single committee stop.

Lawmakers, who are set to start their annual legislative session Jan. 14, are expected to pass the bill in the House. Its chances in the Senate also look more likely than they did last year, and Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters that he personally supports the bill.