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Don’t limit abortion rights | Editorial
The Florida Legislature appears determined to pass legislation requiring parental consent.
SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on the first day of the annual sixty day session, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed a joint session of the Florida Legislature Tuesday in Tallahassee.
SCOTT KEELER | Times Visitors head to Florida's Old Capitol building on the first day of the annual sixty day session, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis addressed a joint session of the Florida Legislature Tuesday in Tallahassee. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 14, 2019

Abortion rights are at serious risk again in Florida. A state Senate committee this week delayed a vote on legislation that would require minors to obtain parental consent before receiving an abortion, but the delay appears to be temporary. Requiring parental consent for an abortion is a clear violation of the privacy rights enshrined in the Florida Constitution, and it would put some minors in more dangerous situations and jeopardize their own safety and health.

There is absolutely no need for further government intrusion into the most personal of decisions. Florida already requires minors to notify their parents or guardians before obtaining an abortion. In some cases, they can seek a judicial waiver instead. But going to court can be a daunting process for anyone, and it is particularly difficult to navigate for a minor who already is facing a personal crisis and fears seeking advice from a parent.

Second, there is no indication that the abortion rate in Florida is rapidly rising. While there were 70,083 abortions in this state last year, that was almost 12,000 fewer than a decade ago. Last year, more than nine of every 10 abortions were in the first trimester. The better way to lower the abortion rate is by improved sex education and better access to affordable contraception, not more regulation that makes it more difficult for minors to exercise their constitutional rights.

Third, this issue is long settled. The Legislature passed a parental consent law in 1988, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled a year later that it was unconstitutional and violated the state Constitution’s right to privacy. As the court noted then, that right to privacy is stronger in the Florida Constitution than in the U.S. Constitution. It also cited examples of other situations where the state did not require parental approval of other medical procedures sought by a minor that could be more dangerous to them than ending a pregnancy. Nothing has changed since the 1980s about the privacy rights of minors or the jeopardy some minors would face by being required to obtain parental consent for an abortion -- except they are now required to notify a parent but not obtain approval.

What has changed is the political landscape. Conservative Republicans are now in firm control of the Florida Legislature. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis turned the state Supreme Court much more conservative by appointing three new justices shortly after taking office in January. The governor and Republican lawmakers see a window of opportunity.

The House passed legislation requiring parental consent this spring, but the full Senate did not take up the bill. The House likely will pass the bill again shortly after the legislative session opens in January, and the Senate will be under tremendous pressure in an election year to take it up and approve it. The Senate Committee on Health Policy on Tuesday defeated reasonable amendments by Democrats such as Janet Cruz of Tampa and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg to make the legislation at least a bit more tolerable. The committee is expected to vote before the end of the year.

For many well-adjusted families with close relationships, requiring a minor to obtain parental consent for an abortion would not be an issue. A pregnant child would have those hard conversations and seek advice and permission without the state requiring it. But every minor who becomes pregnant is not so lucky, and they do not have easy access to a court. Their privacy rights that are guaranteed by the Florida Constitution should be recognized, and state lawmakers should not be further forcing the state into the most personal of decisions.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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