By Christine Sexton, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Minors who seek abortions would be required to obtain parental consent or convince judges to waive the requirement under a bill that received final legislative approval Thursday and has the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Thursday’s 75-43 vote in the House was a victory for DeSantis, who said on the opening day of this year’s legislative session that he hoped the proposal “will make its way to my desk during this session.” The Senate voted 23-17 to pass the bill (SB 404) on Feb. 6.
Before the vote Thursday, DeSantis said Florida’s current abortion laws involving minors are an “outlier” among other states. Regardless of the “underlying issue,” he said, parents “want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”
Laura Goodhue, Planned Parenthood of Florida PAC campaign manager, issued a statement following the vote accusing Republicans of playing politics in an election year and vowing to mobilize what she called an “unprecedented campaign to register, educate and turn out Floridians who will vote to hold these politicians accountable.”
“So, legislators, if you voted for this assault on our rights and our health, we have a message for you — we’ll see you at the polls,” Goodhue said.
The bill passed on a near party-line vote, with Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, and Rep. Holly Raschein, R- Key Largo, joining Democrats in opposition. Rep. James Bush, D-Miami, Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Riviera Beach, and Rep. Anika Omphroy, D- Lauderdale Lakes, voted with Republicans to support the bill.
The vote came after more than three hours of debate Thursday, with Democrats saying the proposal could adversely affect girls in a number of ways, from potentially leading them to seek illegal abortions to forcing them to have children against their will.
Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat who is a mother and a grandmother, said she worried the parental consent requirement would “drive girls into back alleys.”
“I worry as well for these children, many of whom will be born into less-than-ideal circumstances and how effectively they will be cared for, as well as our capacity as a state to be able to care for them,” Valdes said. “There are 19,000 children sitting in Florida’s foster care system right now.”
House bill sponsor Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, said the measure puts parents back into their children’s lives.
“I know that the family structure is critical to the strength of our society and the role of a parent to provide that support and guidance to their minor child is fundamental to the family,” Grall said. “We have taken the focus off of family far too long to the detriment of our society.”
Grall also pushed back against a parade of horribles presented by opponents, including intolerant parents, abusive parents or parents who would harm or kill their daughters if they became pregnant.
“I refuse to accept we should diminish the rights of all parents in the raising of their children because of the acts of few,” Grall said.
The vote came at a time when a Gallup poll shows that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with abortion rights since 2017. The dissatisfaction, the poll shows, comes from Democrats and, to a lesser extent, independents and the “mounting view” that under President Donald Trump abortion laws have become too strict.
Georgia last year passed a bill that would bar abortions after six weeks, and Alabama in 2019 passed a bill that in most cases would criminalize abortions at any time during a pregnancy, though a federal judge has temporarily blocked the ban.
Trump in January became the first sitting president to speak at the March for Life annual anti-abortion march in Washington D.C. Trump also in his State of the Union address called for an end to late-term abortions.
University of South Florida political-science professor emeritus Susan MacManus attributed the spike in abortion bills to the heightened attention over the last three years.
“It has stirred up people who were laissez-faire but are now seeing lots of attention (on the issue),” she said.
Florida law already requires parents to be notified before minors have abortions, a less-stringent requirement than consent. The bill requires that parental consent for abortions be notarized and that parents and legal guardians show government-issued identification to doctors, as well as proof of parentage or guardianship. The documents must be maintained in the minors’ medical files for a minimum of seven years.
Physicians who perform abortions on minors without the required paperwork face third-degree felonies, which are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
The bill would not provide an exception to the consent requirement for minors who are raped or are victims of human trafficking. However, parental consent is not required if abortions are performed during medical emergencies where there is insufficient time to obtain consent.
The bill includes a way for minors to get approval from judges instead of obtaining consent from their parents. And if a judge finds by clear and convincing evidence, that the minor is “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy,” the court must grant the minor the bypass to obtain an abortion.
Fitzenhagen, an attorney, said the judicial bypass process can be overwhelming for minors.
The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement commending the Legislature for passing the bill, and thanking the Democrats who “courageously crossed party lines” to vote in favor of it.
“Standards that relate to children’s health care should apply especially in the context of abortion, which critically affects the lives of two children,” Ingrid Delgado, associate director for Social Concerns/Respect Life, said in the bishops’ statement. “Abortion entails an irreversible decision that is life altering for the pregnant child and life ending for the child in the womb.”
The Legislature also passed a consent requirement in 1988. But the Florida Supreme Court struck down the law a year later, finding that it violated privacy rights in the state Constitution.
This year’s bill was drafted to address the concerns in the court’s 1989 opinion, Grall, an attorney, said.
Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court is more conservative than in the past.
DeSantis indicated he is confident that the measure will pass constitutional muster.
“All I can tell you is, you look at different courts throughout the country, in almost any type of instance, the idea that the parent has an involvement with the minor, that’s not even questioned in almost any area. … So I think it does deserve to be reconsidered,” DeSantis said.