TALLAHASSEE – A bill that would reinstate a parental consent law declared unconstitutional 30 years ago – requiring minors seeking abortions to first obtain consent from a parent or guardian – is only one vote of the House and one stroke of a pen to become law.
On Thursday, the Florida Senate achieved what it couldn’t in 2019, when the parental consent bill stalled in committee. The House version of the bill, which was fast-tracked by a single committee stop, is expected to go to a floor vote next week in the Republican-majority chamber where it is expected to pass. Soon after, Gov. Ron DeSantis will sign it into law, as he promised in his State of the State address last month.
Florida law currently requires parents or guardians to be notified if a minor is having an abortion. Minors can also obtain a judicial dispensation to circumvent this requirement.
The Senate bill – SB 404 – passed 23-17 along party lines.
The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said her legislation is “not a pro-choice or pro-life bill.”
“It’s about whether or not you’re going to have adults involved in tough decisions with kids,” she said.
Stargel, who had a child herself as a teenager, said the purpose of the bill was to ‘strengthen’ families by requiring parents and children to have conversations before minors make the decision to have an abortion.
When she found out she was pregnant and told her mother, she said, her mother told Stargel she thought it best to have an abortion. She thought otherwise and had the baby.
Stargel’s bill also makes failing to care for a child born alive during an abortion punishable as a third-degree felony, rather than a first-degree misdemeanor, as current state law maintains. ‘State.
In his annual state of the state address, DeSantis challenged the Senate to pass the bill this year.
“I hope the legislature will send me this session the parental consent bill that passed the House last year but not the Senate,” he said. In a meeting with the Herald/Times, Senate Speaker Bill Galvano said he wouldn’t be surprised if the parental consent bill was the first to hit the governor’s desk.
Only five states require both parental notice and consent – Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.
The bill sparked heated debate in the 2019 legislative session and passed the House, but failed to clear a more moderate Senate after stalling in committees.
The debate remained heated in 2020, leading pro-life activists dressed in black and pro-choice activists in pink to cleave the Capitol Rotunda in a stark visual divide. Activists on both sides of the issue filled the meeting rooms and gave moving testimony before the committees.
In the Senate, the debate has also become personal.
Senator Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, spoke about the 4,000 babies born while her husband was an obstetrician. She said parents need to be involved in ‘children having children’ because minors cannot make such choices on their own.
“We gave birth to 13-year-olds with children,” Harrell said. “How can a 13 year old make decisions…he can’t even decide what he’s going to wear tomorrow. We need parents to be part of that decision.
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a former school principal, backed up his own conservative leanings toward abortion with his experience with young pregnant women who confide in him. He noted that not all parents are willing to put their daughters’ interests first.
“I’m not sure there’s anyone in this room who’s dealt with more young people dealing with this problem. This issue has come to my attention more than you can imagine,” he said. “A young woman would say, ‘I’m afraid of my parents.’ There are parents who are not parents.
Democratic Plantation Senator Lauren Book, who filed a series of amendments that failed the bill’s first hearing, kept her comments short. She listed the medical associations that spoke out against the bill and stressed, “My body, my choice. My voice, my vote,” she said. “Today I will use both.”
Of the approximately 70,000 abortions performed each year in the state, approximately 1,500 are performed on minors. In 2018, 193 minors asked the court for a judicial exemption.
Stephanie Pineiro, president of Florida Access Network, a group that supports the payment and logistics of abortions, said the judicial waiver process is not easy.
Pineiro first had an abortion when she was 16, after being sexually assaulted at a party. Her father reluctantly took her for surgery after her mother wouldn’t go. He threw away his birth control after the family returned home and their relationship soured.
“He signed a notarized declaration. Even if he didn’t agree, he didn’t have to consent to it or approve of it,” she noted. Current Florida law requires parents or guardians to be notified in writing when their underage daughters request an abortion.
The following year, when she was 17, Pineiro became pregnant again. Her boyfriend, who was 18, tried to buy her Plan B, an emergency contraceptive pill, but couldn’t buy it for a minor. She knew this time that she had to hide the pregnancy from her parents, with whom she no longer had a stable relationship.
“I was ashamed that my parents were going to force me to become a parent,” said Pineiro, now 28. “I wasn’t ready for that.”
She called a hotline that put her in touch with an attorney, and Pineiro put together a case to show a Duval County circuit court judge a compelling reason to allow her the abortion. Three weeks after learning she was pregnant, she had an abortion.
Pineiro said her legal bypass gave her what she needed to continue attending high school and taking classes at Florida State College in Jacksonville.
Had she needed parental consent, she says she would have been forced into a situation that would have changed the course of her career path.
“Besides its real purpose, which is to undermine abortion access in Florida and restrict privacy rights, it impacts real people,” Pineiro said. “It has an impact on young people.”
Abortion in Florida has long been a controversial issue. Abortion access laws have regularly sparked disputes, even though state courts have ruled that a broader right to privacy applies to a woman’s pregnancy in Florida.
In 1989, the state Supreme Court struck down an earlier law requiring parental consent for abortion. In 2003, courts struck down a law requiring parental notification, but voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment to recreate a similar law.
In 2015, the legislature passed a bill that would create a 24-hour waiting period before abortions. The law was quickly the subject of several court decisions and appeals.
Opponents have denounced the bill as a “Trojan horse” designed to take the issue – protected in Florida by a constitutional right to privacy – to a more conservative state Supreme Court.
It’s not just opponents who see it that way.
Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota who is also the state’s GOP chairman, said the abortion bill would be the “first test” of the new Supreme Court, reshaped by DeSantis’ nominations to the similar views.
“I think the abortion bill that will pass this year, parental consent, is directly attributable to the changing of the custody of the Florida Supreme Court,” he told the Herald/Times. “It will be interesting to see what happens after this year.”
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.