By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — In a contentious meeting where proponents and opponents talked about God, homosexuality and government intrusion, a Florida Senate panel Tuesday approved a bill that would require minors to obtain permission from their parents before having abortions.
The 6-3 vote by the Senate Health Policy Committee followed a hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes. Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, tried to balance testimony between people on both sides, but the legislation (SB 404) sparked passionate debate.
“He (God) does say that the shedding of innocent blood is an abomination. And it brings a curse upon the land and upon the individual that stands for that,” said Wendy Gallegos, a pastor from Marion County who supported the measure. “So I would just encourage you today to really, prayfully consider your vote because not only does it affect the state of Florida, it affects you individually and your family, what you do with this situation.”
But American Civil Liberties Union of Florida legislative director Kara Gross testified against the measure, saying it would place an undue burden on the constitutional right of young women to have abortions.
“If a parent won’t consent and a minor isn’t able to go to court or isn’t able to convince a judge, under the bill the child would be forced to have a child,” Gross said. “No child should be forced to have a child against her will. There is no greater governmental intrusion.”
Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their daughters plan to have abortions. The law also provides for a judicial waiver process that allows pregnant teenagers to circumvent the requirement.
But the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, would go further by requiring parental consent, rather than notification. Similar to the current notification requirement, the bill would allow exemptions for teens who already are parents or are in medical emergencies.
According to a staff analysis of the House version of the bill (HB 265), 224 petitions for waiver of the parental-notification requirement were filed in 2017. Courts granted 205 of them. In 2018, minors filed 193 petitions, with 182 granted.
Similar to the current notification requirement, the consent bill would allow exemptions for teens who already are parents or are in medical emergencies.
Parental-consent bills were considered during the 2019 legislative session, but the issue stalled in the Senate and did not pass. Senate President Bill Galvano, however, has indicated his support for the measure during the upcoming 2020 session. He told reporters in October, “I have said, ‘yes,’ that’s something that I have an interest in and have looked at.”
Meanwhile, a House health care panel already passed its version of the parental-consent bill, and that measure is poised to be considered by the full House during the 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14.
Supporters and opponents of the legislation agree that, if passed and signed into law, the measure could become a test case for the reconstituted Florida Supreme Court, which struck down a parental-consent law in 1989.
The current Supreme Court is decidedly more conservative than previous courts, after longtime justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince stepped down in January because of a mandatory retirement age.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed more-conservative justices Barbara Lagoa, Robert Luck and Carlos Muniz to replace them, though Lagoa and Luck have since been appointed by President Donald Trump to a federal appeals court. That will lead to DeSantis making two more appointments.
Abortion debates always spark fierce debates in the Legislature. At one point Tuesday, Florida A&M University student Imani Hutchinson, an opponent of the parental-consent measure, tried to link Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who supports the bill, to a white-supremacist theory.
That led Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, to cut off Hutchinson.
“We do not attack you. And we would appreciate it if you would not attack us just because you disagree with our policies,” Mayfield said.
Meanwhile, Charlene Cothran, a self-identified “former homosexual” said people who support homosexual lifestyles and support abortion rights “are in the same board room.”
“I believe that when they remove a parent’s right to be informed that that is also going to go over to removing a parent’s right to be informed about a child beginning puberty blockers. About a child beginning transsexual operations by Planned Parenthood or whoever else is going to be performing them,” Cothran said. “And so we have to remember that this is just a stepping stone to homosexuals’ so-called equality rights.”