Parental consent abortion bill clears Florida Senate on party-line vote
TALLAHASSEE – Following emotional debate Thursday, a divided Florida Senate approved requiring girls under age 18 to get permission from a parent, guardian or a court before having an abortion, defying a three-decades- old court ruling that declared a similar law unconstitutional.
The 23-17 vote broke strictly along party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The measure now moves to the House, where an even larger GOP majority is expected to approve the change, sending it to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has indicated he will sign the restriction into law.
“This is not a pro-choice, pro-life bill, it really isn’t,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, sponsor of the bill (SB 404). “It’s about whether or not you’re going to have adults be involved in difficult decisions for children… we want parents to be involved.”
Florida could become the 18th state in just over a year to approve a new limit on abortion, a wave powered by President Trump’s appointment of two conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices.
In Florida, though, it was a state Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that overturned an earlier parental consent law approved by a then-Democratic controlled Legislature. Justices ruled that the requirement violated the state’s constitutional right to privacy, which they said extended to minors.
A legal challenge to the latest version of parental consent is almost certain once it becomes law. And a more conservative Florida Supreme Court, reshaped by recent DeSantis appointments, could take another look at the scope of privacy in the state.
“That’s possibly an outcome,” Stargel said following the Senate vote.
Florida voters in 2004 approved a parental notice law for minors seeking abortion. But supporters say a consent law will heighten adult involvement in a minor’s decision.
Opponents of the bill, though, said that demanding minor girls to get notarized consent from a parent, a guardian or navigate their way through the court system to avoid getting a parent’s approval, creates unconstitutional hurdles.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, also said that in troubled families, where a daughter’s pregnancy could lead to physical abuse or threats that she’ll be kicked out of the house, the consent requirement isn’t going to improve anything.
“Being coerced into getting consent doesn’t change family dynamics,” Berman said. “This bill doesn’t change one thing about… communication.”
Stargel told senators that she had a child as a teenager through an unplanned pregnancy. She feared telling her mother, who urged her to have an abortion. While Stargel didn’t follow the advice, she said she still valued having spoken with her mother.
“Probably the hardest conversation I ever had in my life,” Stargel said, fighting back tears. “But I’m so glad I did.”
Senate Democrats last week sought to revamp the legislation, or kill it outright, by proposing more than two-dozen amendments, all defeated by the Republican majority. Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said Thursday the concept of the bill is flawed.
“We cannot legislate family dynamics…and quite frankly, that’s not our role,” she said. “It’s not government’s role.”
There were 70,239 abortions in Florida in 2018, with 1,398 involving minors, 193 of whom sought a judicial bypass to avoid notifying their parents, state records show. While the numbers suggest the legislation may have limited effect on abortion in Florida, the election-year symbolism may be important for the state’s ruling Republicans.
Religious conservatives were disappointed when Florida lawmakers failed to join other states last year in advancing abortion limits that could win approval when reviewed by more right-leaning courts.
Religious conservatives are a powerful voting bloc Trump is eager to retain on his side heading into November’s election. The president held a rally with evangelicals last month in Miami, during which he claimed that God is “on our side” and touted his appointment of dozens of conservative judges to federal posts.
Senate supporters Thursday kept returning to the need for parents to get involved.
“The way that I see it, it’s just a forced conversation on something that will forever, ever and ever change several people’s lives,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. “And that’s what we’re asking for. Can there please be a conversation, so that little girl doesn’t have to go through this by herself?”