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Abortion bill passed by Florida lawmakers, restricting access for minors

After five hours of heated debate over two days, the House passed a bill that would make Florida one of five states requiring minors get parental consent and notification before getting abortions.
Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R- Miami Lakes and Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, talk during a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Tuesday, January 14, 2020, in Tallahassee. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

TALLAHASSEE — In a speech at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked lawmakers for a bill to require minors seeking abortion to obtain parental consent. On Thursday, he received it.

After five hours of heated debate over the course of two days, the Florida House passed a bill that would do just that, sending the legislation to DeSantis’ desk, the first bill to do so.

Fast-tracked through a single committee stop instead of the usual three, the bill was replaced Wednesday by Senate’s version of the bill that passed earlier this 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 change to existing law adds Florida to the list of five other states — Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming — that require both parental consent and notification.

House members passed the legislation 75-43. The mandate will go into effect July 1.

Party splits

Though the fight over parental consent for abortions has been a largely partisan one, GOP Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers came out against it. Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo also voted no.

Fitzenhagen said she agrees with her Republican colleagues that she wants an end to abortions in Florida.

However, she said, “we don’t live in a utopia where young girls don’t get pregnant,” and the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a private one that should be made without government interference. She says as an attorney and a woman, she knows how scary it could be for a girl who is intimidated to even get to a courtroom to seek a judicial waiver.

She understands what it’s like for young people or even uninitiated adults to step into a court room, Fitzenhagen said, and she knows what it would be like to seek a judicial waiver to get an abortion without parental consent.

“To approach a person you don’t know and ask that person to allow you to make a very difficult decision ... It’s not as straightforward as it sounds,” she said. “I foresee a scenario where teenagers will try to subvert this law and turn to dangerous termination methods or suicide.”

Not all Democrats voted against the bill, either. After drama, name calling and tension in the caucus, House Democrats decided not to take a party position opposing the bill. Voting with Republicans were Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Delray Beach, Rep. Anika Omfroy, D-Lauderdale Lakes, Rep. James Bush, D-Miami and Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville

Protests in the districts

While lawmakers debated Thursday afternoon, pro-choice advocates visited lawmakers’ district offices, urging them to vote no on the bill.

Advocates gathered at Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo’s South Tampa office to express their opposition.

In Miami, members of the Latina Institute for Reproductive Health Florida, Miami Workers Center, Women’s March Miami and others met outside the Doral district office of Republican Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez.

Dian Alarcon, a field organizer for the Florida Latina Advocacy Network, noted that in Miami where there is a large immigrant population, undocumented parents can’t obtain a state ID to give consent to their daughters, complicating the process. This was a point brought up by Democrats during Wednesday’s debate of the bill.

“Good parents don’t need politicians to impose laws that force young people to communicate with their parents,” she said. “We are the ones who with confidence and education give our children the tools to make healthy decisions for their lives.”

Supporters of the bill contend that the bill’s sole focus is ensuring parents be involved with their children’s decisions.

Focus on the courts

But opponents of the bill call it a “Trojan horse” meant to put the issue — protected in Florida by a constitutional right to privacy — before a more conservative state Supreme Court. The privacy rights outlined in the state Constitution have been used to strike down other laws restricting abortions in the past.

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 requiring that parents are notified when a minor gets an abortion.

Democrats on the floor challenged the bill sponsor on the reasoning behind bringing up an issue already addressed by both voters and the courts.

“Why are we re-litigating the issue here?” asked Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

Rep. Erin Grall , R-Vero Beach, denied that she wanted to overturn previous precedent and said the “bill is about making sure parents are involved in these important decisions that their young daughters face.” She said the new bill instead addresses deficiencies the court found in the old law.

When asked Thursday whether the Florida Supreme Court will set new precedent with parental consent, DeSantis told reporters that parental involvement in a minor’s decision to get an abortion “deserves to be reconsidered.”

Last week when the Senate bill was heard, Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the legislation 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 Times/Herald. “It will be interesting to see what happens after this year.”

Groups like the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, which have challenged restrictions to patient access in the past, said it is open to litigation in response to the law when it goes into effect.

“We will look at all options to make sure patients get access to the services they need,” said FAPP Director Laura Goodhue.

The organization is not presently planning any litigation.

“We would certainly have to look at it,” she said. “The most important thing is patients’ access to care.”

Kara Gross, of the ACLU of Florida, echoed the sentiment. She said she can’t comment on future litigation, but said the organization will “definitely be exploring all options.”

“Politicians should not be enacting laws that make it more difficult for minors to not have children,” she said. “The real intent behind this bill is to narrow Floridians’ privacy protections guaranteed by the Florida Constitution. This bill is not about protecting young people, it’s about rolling back Floridians’ constitutional right to abortion in the State of Florida.”

After the vote, Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo denounced the bill, calling it a political move to overturn the court’s 1989 decision.

“He and his Republican lawmakers know they passed a bill that violates our state’s constitutional right to privacy and they don’t care because they expect conservatives on Florida’s Supreme Court to overturn the court’s previous 1989 decision protecting young women’s right to privacy and be a rubber stamp for DeSantis’ attacks on women,” she wrote in a statement.

Democrats raised fears that the measure would impact minors in ways beyond the parameters of the bill. They debated for more than two hours over dozens of last-chance amendments that would, among other things, allow minors to seek judicial waivers outside their home counties, put financial responsibility onto the parents of minors who carry their babies to term and protect minors who became pregnant from rape or incest.

Grall tried to quell Democrats’ concerns by saying that “the only thing the bill addresses is consent” and that there are reasons other issues are not addressed in the bill.

Rep. Tina Polsky, a Palm Beach County Democrat, said Grall’s answers to Democrats were “inadequate.”

“This is a solution in search of a problem. Parents are notified and there is zero evidence they are not notified,” she said. “Nobody wants an abortion ... who are we to regulate the family and their dynamics?”

Rep. Anna Eskamani, who once served as a regional Planned Parenthood director, explained to lawmakers that she knows firsthand how strict the state’s rules are on abortion access. If they don’t support abortions, she said, they should find comfort in knowing that abortion rates have fallen each year due to contraceptives and sexual education.

“We have been down this path before. This bill is not about parental knowledge or advice,” said Eskamani, D-Orlando. “It’s about politicians creating a system where minors will have to have children against their will.”

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