POLITICS

Florida Bill Would Force Minors To Seek Parental Consent For Abortions

Opponents of the legislation say it will stop vulnerable teens from accessing timely medical care.
Protesters gather in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 2019. State legislators have introduced an unprecedented number o
Protesters gather in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 18, 2019. State legislators have introduced an unprecedented number of anti-abortion bills this year, with the hopes of triggering a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

A bill introduced in the Florida House would require teenagers to obtain parental consent before seeking an abortion, marking the latest effort to restrict abortion access in the state.

State law currently requires a parent or guardian to be notified if their minor child is having an abortion. But HB 1335 would go even further, requiring a physician to obtain their notarized written consent before performing an abortion. Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a felony. The bill includes an exception for medical emergencies.

A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate.

Twenty-six states require at least one parent or guardian to sign off on a minor’s abortion. But reproductive rights groups and the medical community oppose such laws, saying they are counterproductive and can be harmful to the very adolescents they purport to protect.

Most young people already confide in a trusted adult when they are making a decision about seeking an abortion, said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

“But there are some youths who just can’t do that,” she said. “They may be in the foster care system or their parents may kick them out of the house, or they are being abused.”

The bill would result in young people either delaying care, having to travel out of the state or possibly self-inducing an abortion, she said.

“This is an unnecessary law,” she said. “It would put at-risk youth in really difficult situations.”

Leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all oppose parental consent laws.

Adolescents should be encouraged to involve their parents and other trusted adults in decisions regarding pregnancy termination, and most do so voluntarily,” the AAP said in a 2017 statement. “However, legislation mandating parental involvement does not achieve the intended benefit of promoting family communication, and it increases the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate medical care.”

Under the Florida legislation, minors who do not wish to involve their parents can seek a waiver from a court to bypass the consent requirement ― as long as they can convince a judge that they are mature enough to choose abortion for themselves.

That process can be complicated, unnerving and traumatic for teens, said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

A judge will weigh the minor’s age, overall intelligence, emotional development, credibility and ability to accept responsibility, among other factors, to determine if the young person is mature enough. 

Paradoxically, if the court deems a teenager “too immature” to have an abortion, they are essentially saying she is mature enough to have a child, Nash said.

“It is this circular reasoning that really is about finding a process that denies a young person the ability to access abortion services,” she said.

Kara Gross, legislative director of the ACLU of Florida, called the bill a “misguided governmental intrusion” into family relationships.

“It doesn’t create stronger families, and it only jeopardizes the lives of young women,” Gross said in a statement.

Hearings on both the state House and Senate bill are scheduled this week. 

State legislators have introduced an unprecedented number of bills to restrict abortion access in 2019, according to a report by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Guttmacher Institute. Some legislative efforts are specifically designed to spark a court challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide. 

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