Parental consent bill headed to house floor

Setting up a potential test case for Florida’s recently revamped Supreme Court, a House panel on Tuesday approved a bill that would require pregnant girls under age 18 to get consent from their parents before obtaining abortions.

Members of the House Health & Human Services Committee spent more than two hours debating the bill and hearing from dozens of members of the public before voting along party lines to pass the measure (HB 265). It was the only committee stop for the bill, meaning it can be voted on by the full House when the 2020 legislative session begins in January.

Bill sponsor Erin Grall, R Vero Beach, shrugged off criticism that the bill was being fast-tracked, telling members that the House last year debated a virtually identical bill for more than 7 ½ hours.

“The make-up of this (House) body is substantially the same. The content of the bill is identical. And so I feel like we’ve had these conversations,” Grall said.

Senators have not considered the Senate version of the measure (SB 404), which has been sent to three committees.

If ultimately passed, the proposal would ban physicians from performing abortions on minors unless the physicians receive notarized, written parental consent or court orders waiving the parental consent requirement.

The measure drew passionate debate from people on both sides of the issue, as speakers varied in age from college students to 70-year-old preachers.

American Civil Liberties Union of Florida legislative director, Kara Gross testified that the bill would put an undue burden on young women’s constitutional rights. If passed, she said, the measure would force minors to have children.

“If a parent doesn’t consent and a child isn’t able to go to court or isn’t able to convince a judge, under this bill, the child will 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.”

But Ingrid Delgado, with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops said the bill transcends abortion rights.

“This bill shouldn’t be about whether we support or oppose abortion, but rather about the unique role of parents in their children’s lives, particularly when the outcomes are permanent,” Delgado said.

Supporters and opponents of the legislation agreed that the bill could be a test case for the reconstituted Florida Supreme Court, which struck down a parental-consent law in 1989.

The court decidedly is 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. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed more-conservative justices Barbara Lagoa, Robert Luck and Carlos Muniz to replace them.

Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their daughters are planning to have abortions. The law also provides for a judicial waiver process that allows pregnant teenagers to circumvent the requirement. 

According to a House staff analysis, 224 petitions for waiver of the parental-notification requirement were filed in 2017. The court granted 205 of them. In 2018, minors filed 193 petitions of which 182 were granted.

But the bill 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.

Grall said there was no need to expand those exemptions to cover girls who have been raped or who have been victims of human trafficking.

But Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said that wasn’t the case.

“Are we serious? you want to tell the parent about human trafficking? What if the parent is the one trafficking the child?” Jones, said, also arguing that the Legislature should address sex education and access to birth control to prevent unintended pregnancies.

“Of course we are going to disagree on this issue,” Jones said. “But I’m asking that we change our conversation. And change the topic and think about the unintended consequences that will come along with this.”

© 2019 The News Service of Florida.