The Florida Senate is poised to approve legislation this week that would require minors to obtain parental consent before receiving an abortion -- even though the Florida Supreme Court decided decades ago that restriction violates the Florida Constitution. Why pass legislation that is unconstitutional? Because Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers are confident the conservative justices who now dominate the court will ignore precedent and uphold an abortion restriction that will jeopardize the safety and health of some pregnant teenagers.
This assault on abortion rights is an election-year effort by Republican lawmakers to energize conservative voters without embracing more extreme restrictions. For example, legislation that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is not moving. But Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned his support for the parental consent bill last month in his State of the State address. And the Senate, which last year stalled similar legislation that passed the House, is going first this time and expected to vote along party lines Thursday to approve SB 404. Expect a court fight, but don’t count on the Florida Supreme Court to protect the constitutional rights of pregnant teenagers this time.
This issue has been long settled. The Legislature passed a similar parental consent law in 1988, and a year later the Florida Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional and violated the state Constitution’s right to privacy. That privacy right has not changed. What has changed is the court is more conservative, and it has demonstrated it has no qualms about going off in a new direction. Already this year it has decided it was wrong for the court to consider the intent of the voters when evaluating constitutional amendments, and it concluded the court also was wrong to require juries to unanimously recommend death sentences.
There is no need for the state to interfere with this most personal of decisions. Florida already has a parental notification law, and there is no indication that the abortion rate is significantly rising. There were 12,000 fewer abortions in 2018 in this state than there were a decade ago, and more than nine of every 10 abortions were in the first trimester. Requiring parental consent will put more teenagers who do not have close relationships with their families in a more desperate situation.
The supporters of the legislation note pregnant teens who can’t seek their parents’ permission can seek a judicial waiver to obtain an abortion and that a lawyer may be appointed to represent them. But going to court can be intimidating for anyone, particularly for a teen who already is in crisis. Abortion rights supporters also point out that clerks for many circuit courts are not particularly prepared to help a teen inquiring about the judicial waiver process.
One by one, the Senate already has rejected virtually every change proposed by Democrats such as Sens. Janet Cruz of Tampa and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg that would have made the parental consent legislation marginally more workable. Expect Thursday’s debate to be vigorous, but don’t expect minds to change. This attack on abortion rights is on the fast track to the governor, who will sign it into law. The question is whether the conservative justices on the Florida Supreme Court will decide those rights are still protected by the privacy amendment to the state Constitution. What was once a given is no longer certain.
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