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Florida’s abortion consent bill gains support

SB 404, sponsored by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, adds a requirement that doctors must have consent from a parent or guardian before an abortion is performed on a minor.
Florida Senator Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, was the sponsor of a law that was to go into effect Friday that would have created new requirements for abortion doctors that could have limited the number of clinics. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out similar Texas restrictions, raising doubt about the fate of Florida's new law. [Scott Keeler | Times]
Florida Senator Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, was the sponsor of a law that was to go into effect Friday that would have created new requirements for abortion doctors that could have limited the number of clinics. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out similar Texas restrictions, raising doubt about the fate of Florida's new law. [Scott Keeler | Times]
Published Jan. 15, 2020|Updated Jan. 15, 2020

One day after Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his support in his annual State of the State address, a bill requiring minors to get parental consent for abortions is off to its last committee stop, where senators will vote to send the bill to the Senate floor.

“I hope that the Legislature will send me this session the parental consent bill that last year was passed by the House but not by the Senate,” he said.

Last year, a parental consent bill passed the House but stalled in the more moderate Senate.

The topic of abortion, which is a hot issue, is expected to gain more traction this presidential election year and pass in both chambers.

The bill passed 3-2 along party lines in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

The House companion was fast-tracked through a single committee in late October to a full House vote.

Under current Florida law, minors must either notify their parents or guardians before getting an abortion or secure a judicial waiver in cases like medical emergencies to bypass that requirement.

SB 404, sponsored by Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, of Lakeland, adds a requirement that doctors must have consent from a parent or guardian before an abortion is performed on a minor. In rare circumstances, minors could seek a judicial waiver from a court instead. Of about 70,000 abortions done in the state yearly, about 1,500 are performed on minors. Last year, 193 minors petitioned the court for a judicial waiver.

The bill passed without an amendment that would have brought the bill closer to the House version. Stargel withdrew the amendment after Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez challenged it.

After the vote Wednesday, Stargel said the combined support of the governor and lack of controversial issues this year will clear a path for the bill to make it past the Senate.

Opponents argue that the bill is instead meant to block abortion access to and is aimed at rekindling the issue of abortion in front of a more conservative state Supreme Court, shaped by DeSantis, and U.S. Supreme Court reshaped by President Donald Trump.

Opponents also point out that the courts have on multiple occasions held that a broad state constitutional right to privacy applies to a woman’s pregnancy as well.

“Obviously having [the Governor’s] support is huge,” she said. “Last year we had a lot of weighty subjects going back and forth ... this year, we’re starting earlier, I filed the bill earlier. All of those things will help this bill go through the finish line this year.”

She noted that last year, hot button issues like so-called “sanctuary cities” took up a lot of air in the last few weeks of session.

Stargel’s bill also makes not caring for an infant born alive during an abortion punishable as a third-degree felony, rather than a first-degree misdemeanor, as state law currently maintains.

Supporters of the bill say that it’s meant to ensure abortion decisions include parents or guardians. The legislation has been publicly endorsed by both Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva.

Stargel, who had a child as a teenager herself, said the purpose of the bill is to “strengthen” families by requiring that parents and children have a conversation before the minor makes the decision to get an abortion.

When she learned she was pregnant and told her mother, she said, her mother told Stargel she thought it was best to have an abortion. She thought otherwise, and had the baby. Since then, she has had four more children with the father of her first child, to whom she has been married for 36 years, she said.

“Everyone thinks that their parent is going to kill them or kick them out,” Stargel said. “I was shocked at my mother’s response as a child when I went through this ... this is personal for me.”

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who co-sponsored the bill, said because minors are too young to be responsible for themselves, it’s the parents’ responsibility to help them make decisions.

Baxley, who in 2019 sponsored an unsuccessful bill that aimed to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, added that the bill is “very clear.”

Baxley claimed last year that because of abortions, the white, Western European “race” will ultimately be “replaced” by immigrants.

“There’s no muddy water here,” Baxley said. “There’s a reason children have parents. They’re children. This is the role of the parent and it’s a parental responsibility even more that.”

Madeline Brezin, an attorney working with the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, pointed out the privacy rule, and said the bill would “traumatize” young people seeking care.

“This bill stigmatizes abortion,” she said. “This raises serious concerns.”

In December, the Senate bill passed the Senate Health Policy Committee after an initial effort by Democratic lawmakers to run out the clock on the bill.

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