A controversial parental consent law for minors seeking abortions is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but also spark a court challenge.
TALLAHASSEE — Following emotional debate, a divided Florida House approved a parental consent requirement Thursday for minors seeking abortion — reviving a measure declared unconstitutional 30 years ago by the state Supreme Court.
The bill (SB 404) would force girls under age 18 to get notarized approval from a parent or guardian or, otherwise, seek a hearing and gain consent from a judge before terminating a pregnancy.
It was approved 75-43 in a mostly party-line vote in the Republican-controlled House.
“It is indisputable that abortion ends a life, and the decision to end a life is permanent and life-altering not only for the baby, but for the girl, the father and the family,” said Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, a sponsor of the measure.
Supporters said the legislation affirms the role of parents and assures that young girls will get the help they need in making a crucial decision about a pregnancy.
Opponents said it clearly violates a 1989 decision by justices who overturned an earlier law, concluding that it violated Florida’s right to privacy, which the court said extended to minors seeking abortions.
Some of those voting against the bill also said the proposal was just mean-spirited.
“Let’s not take these poor, frightened girls and make their lives hell,” said Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.
Lawmakers warned against trying to require family involvement in an abortion decision.
“This bill is not about parental guidance or advice ... it’s about politicians forcing children to have children against their will,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.
But a Democrat who broke ranks, Rep. James Bush of Miami, called the legislation “a good bill for our children.”
Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, sided with Democratic opponents, saying it was impossible for lawmakers to create a family dynamic that may be missing in many households.
“We don’t live in a Utopia where parents always love and advise their children and young girls never get pregnant,” Fitzenhagen said.
Other GOP members spoke in favor of bolstering parental involvement. Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, said the bill struck the right balance and he welcomed the possibility of making more children available for adoption.
“This is a good compromise ... this bill is a great first step,” Roth said. “It allows time for another option to be put on the table that gives the unborn child a chance for life.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he plans to sign the legislation once it lands on his desk. Like earlier abortion laws approved by the Legislature, a parental consent law is certain to be challenged in court by abortion-rights advocates.
DeSantis said Thursday he welcomes a review by the Florida Supreme Court. He has appointed almost half the justices now seated on the court, likely tilting the seven-member panel toward a more conservative view of state law.
The governor said the legal system endorses the role of parents in the lives of their children. Abortion should be no different, he said.
“I think it does deserve to be reconsidered,” DeSantis said, adding: “I think (parents) want to be involved with what’s going on with their kids.”
The House last year approved a similar parental consent bill only to see the effort stall in the Senate. With President Donald Trump recasting the U.S. Supreme Court with the appointment of two conservative justices, 17 states last year enacted some kind of abortion restriction.
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Florida, though, lagged and social conservatives sent a clear message to lawmakers that they expected some kind of action this election year.
Social conservatives represent a powerful voting bloc whose support Trump is eager to retain in November’s election. Trump held a January rally with evangelical voters in Miami, claiming that God is “on our side,” and touting his appointment of dozens of conservative judges to federal posts.
DeSantis is a Trump protégé eager to help the president again capture Florida, the biggest swing state in November’s election.
Florida currently has a parental notice law approved by voters in 2004 which also gives a minor the right to appear before a judge to avoid telling a parent about an abortion. But increasing the notice standard to consent is viewed by supporters as heightening a parent’s oversight.
Still, the consent law would not directly affect many Floridians. While there were 70,239 abortions in Florida in 2018, only 1,398 of them involved minors, 193 of whom sought a judicial bypass to avoid notifying their parents, state records show.
Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, also pointed out that requiring consent did not prevent families from still choosing abortion.
“I’m unashamedly pro-life, I’m not hiding that,” Sullivan said. “But a parent may choose that it’s in the best interest of the child to move forward with the procedure. It just says, a parent gets involved.”
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.