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Major Florida abortion restriction looms as lawmakers near final passage

Florida law currently requires that parents or guardians are notified if a minor gets an abortion. This bill requires that they must first get consent. The House is expected to pass it.
Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Thursday by the Florida Senate. [AILEEN PERILLA  |  AP]
Joey Cousin, a transgender student from Broward county and an opponent of the SB 404, known as the "parental consent" bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill requires girls under the age of 18 get a parent's consent before having an abortion was approved Thursday by the Florida Senate. [AILEEN PERILLA | AP]
Published Feb. 6
Updated Feb. 6

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would reinstate a parental consent law declared unconstitutional 30 years ago — requiring minors seeking abortions to first get consent from a parent or guardian — is just a House vote and pen stroke away from becoming law.

The Florida Senate on Thursday pulled off what it couldn’t in 2019, when the parental consent bill stalled in committee. The House version of the bill, which was fast-tracked through a single committee stop, is set to go before a floor vote next week in the majority Republican chamber where it is expected to pass. Soon after, Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign it into law, as he promised in his State of the State speech last month.

Florida law currently requires that parents or guardians are notified if a minor gets an abortion. Minors can also obtain a judicial waiver to bypass that requirement.

The Senate bill — SB 404 — passed 23-17 along party lines.

Senate Bill sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said her legislation is “not a pro-choice or pro-life bill.”

“This is about whether or not you’re going to have adults involved in difficult decisions with children,” she said.

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 conversations before minors make 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.

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.

In his annual State of the State address, DeSantis challenged the Senate to pass the bill off the floor this year.

“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. In a meeting with the Herald/Times, Senate President Bill Galvano said he wouldn’t be surprised if the parental consent bill was the first one to make it onto the governor’s desk.

Just five states require both parental notice and consent — Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

The bill drew heated debate during the 2019 legislative session and passed in the House but failed to clear a more moderate Senate after stalling in committees.

The debate remained heated in 2020, bringing clashing pro-life activists clad in black and pro-choice activists in pink to cleave the Capitol rotunda in a striking visual divide. Activists on both sides of the issue packed meeting rooms and presented emotional testimony in front of the committees.

On the Senate floor, debate also got personal.

Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, spoke of the 4,000 babies delivered while her husband was an obstetrician. She said parents must be involved with “children having children” because minors cannot make such choices for themselves.

“We have delivered 13-year-old children having children,” Harrell said. “How can a 13-year-old make decisions … they can’t even decide what they are going to wear tomorrow. We need parents to be part of that decision.”

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a former school principal, held up his own conservative leanings toward abortion with his experience with young, pregnant women confiding in him. He noted that not all parents are willing to put their daughters’ best interest first.

“I’m not sure there’s anyone in this room who has dealt with more young people facing this issue. This issue has been brought to my attention more than you could imagine” he said. “A young lady would say, ‘I am afraid of my parents.’ There are some parents who are not parents.”

Plantation Democrat Sen. Lauren Book, who filed a slew of amendments that failed during the bill’s first hearing, kept her comments short. She listed the medical associations who have come out against the bill, and emphasized, “My body, my choice. My voice, my vote,” she said. “Today, I’m going to use both.”

Of about 70,000 abortions done in the state yearly, about 1,500 are performed on minors. In 2018, 193 minors petitioned the court for a judicial waiver.

Stephanie Pineiro, president of Florida Access Network, a group that supports payment and logistics for abortions, said the judicial waiver process is not an easy one.

Pineiro first had an abortion when she was 16, after she was sexually assaulted at a party. Her father reluctantly took her to get the procedure after her mother wouldn’t go. He threw away her birth control after the family returned home, and their relationship deteriorated.

“He signed a notarized statement. Even though he didn’t agree, he didn’t have to consent or approve it,” she noted. Current Florida law requires parents or guardians be notified in writing when their minor daughters seek an abortion.

The next year, when she was 17, Pineiro got pregnant again. Her boyfriend, who was 18, tried to buy her Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill, but could not purchase it for a minor. She knew this time she had to hide the pregnancy from her parents, with whom she no longer had a stable relationship.

“I felt shame and that my parents would force me into parenthood,” said Pineiro, now 28. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

She called a hotline that set her up with a lawyer, and Pineiro built a case to show a circuit court judge in Duval County a compelling reason for allowing her the abortion. Three weeks after she learned she was pregnant, she had her abortion.

Pineiro said her judicial bypass gave her what she needed to keep attending high school and taking classes at Florida State College in Jacksonville.

Had she needed parental consent, she says she would have been forced into a situation that would have changed the course of her career path.

"Aside from its real purpose, which is to undermine abortion access in Florida and restricting the right to privacy, this impacts real people,” Pineiro said. “This impacts young people.”

Abortion in Florida has long been a controversial issue. Laws around access to abortions have regularly sparked dispute, even though the state’s courts have held that a broader right to privacy applies to a woman’s pregnancy in Florida.

In 1989, the state Supreme Court struck down a previous law requiring parental consent for abortion. In 2003, courts struck down a law requiring parental notification, but voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment to recreate a similar law.

In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill that would create a 24-hour waiting period before abortions. The law quickly became the subject of several court decisions and appeals.

Opponents have decried the bill as a “Trojan horse” that is meant to put the issue — protected in Florida by a constitutional right to privacy — before a more conservative state Supreme Court.

Not just opponents see it that way.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who doubles as the state GOP chair, said the abortion bill will be the “first test” of the new Supreme Court, reshaped by like-minded DeSantis appointments.

“I think the abortion bill that will pass this year, parental consent, that’s directly attributable to the changing of the guard of the Florida Supreme Court,” he told the Herald/Times. “It will be interesting to see what happens after this year.”

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

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