Florida Senate Chamber

Parental Consent Bill Divides Florida Legislature on Role of Government in Minors’ Sexual Health

Florida’s state legislature sits in the center of disputes concerning how far a government can intrude in the personal life of a minor.

If passed, SB 404 would require a parent or legal guardian’s written consent for a minor to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. A doctor performing the abortion without written consent would be committing a third-degree felony under the bill, and would face up to five years in prison.

There are some exceptions to the written requirement. In cases of abuse, incest, medical emergencies, or other circumstances, the minor can independently approach a judge; the judge may or may not grant them a waiver that permits them to act without written consent from a parent or guardian. The court would have a three-day deadline to issue a decision to the minor, followed by a week if the minor appeals the court’s decision.

The bill also specifies that emancipated minors do not require parental consent.

The bill passed through the House in 2019 but has slowed down in the Senate. The Health Policy Committee conducted the first Senate bill revision on Jan. 14. The next day, it passed through the Judiciary Committee with a vote of 3-2.

On Jan. 22, the Rules Committee made the second and final substitution with a passing vote of 9-7. The day of the Rules Committee vote was the 47th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which federally legalized abortion in 1973. The parental consent bill passed through its final Senate committee and will now be open to the floor.

Florida already requires parental or guardian notification at least 48 hours before the doctor terminates the pregnancy.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland and sponsor of the bill, reportedly told NBC South Florida, “I believe that parental notification is basically a child just saying, ‘This is what I’m doing’… I think that consent requires a little bit more of a conversation between the child and the parent — requires a conversation of the ramifications, the pros and the cons, and they can talk through the discussion.”

Supporters of the bill contend that it will protect families by involving a parent or guardian in their child’s important decision-making process. Critics argue that the bill is part of a broader agenda to chip away at Roe v. Wade, and that its goal is to bring abortion before the state’s currently conservative Supreme Court.

Kara Gross, Legislative Director and Senior Policy Counsel of the ACLU of Florida, gave public testimony before the Health Policy Committee, saying, “This bill has nothing to do with ensuring a parent has knowledge of their minors’ pregnancy — Florida statutes already require a parent to be notified prior to an abortion… This bill won’t prevent abortions, it will prevent safe and legal abortions.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis weighed in on the bill during the January 14 State of the State Address, where he spoke about adoption before announcing, “I also hope that the parental consent bill will make its way to my desk during this session!”

The abortion debate is increasingly politicized entering this election year when both parties vie for favorability and votes. The date to vote on the bill in the Senate has not yet been determined, but both sides are preparing their arguments for when the day comes.

Featured photo: A view of the former Florida Senate chamber in Tallahassee. Unmodified photo by Daniel Vorndran used under a Creative Commons license. http://bit.ly/3aISmDX

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