Activists Warn Against Florida Bill Requiring Parental Consent for Underage Abortions

A protester holds a sign at the Miami Women's March in 2017.
A protester holds a sign at the Miami Women's March in 2017. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
In the name of saving children who aren't born yet, Florida lawmakers want to hurt children who are already alive. State legislators have proposed a series of anti-abortion laws this year, including one that would force minors to get notarized written consent from their parents before receiving an abortion. Doctors who fail to obtain parental or guardian consent before performing abortions on a minor would be charged with third-degree felonies and could face five years in prison.

The bill, HB 1335, which is sponsored by Vero Beach Rep. Erin Grall, passed the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. In response, women's rights and civil rights groups are issuing new warnings. The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union cautioned yesterday that the law will harm underage girls if enacted.

"The reality is that minors who have trusting relationships with their parents already seek the advice and support of their parent when it comes to reproductive decisions," Florida ACLU legislative director Karen Gross said in a media release. "Those who do not willingly consult a parent have very good reasons not to. Many come from families where such an announcement would only exacerbate an already volatile or dysfunctional family situation."

Thirty-six states currently have mandatory parental consent laws for abortion providers. As it stands, Florida allows minors to obtain abortions, but doctors are mandated by law to notify parents or guardians after the procedure takes place. HB 1335 would force doctors to obtain consent before terminating a pregnancy.

Under the new bill, minors without parental permission must ask a judge to rule if they are "mature enough" to have an abortion. If a judge decides the minor is not "mature," that child is forced to give birth.

According to a staff analysis by the House Judiciary Committee, judges would be forced to gauge a pregnant minor's "maturity" level based on the following criteria:

  • Age;
  • Overall intelligence;
  • Emotional development and stability;
  • Credibility and demeanor as a witness;
  • Ability to accept responsibility;
  • Ability to assess both the immediate and long-range consequences of the minor's choices; and
  • Ability to understand and explain the medical risks of the abortion and to apply that understanding to her decision.
The staff analysis did not consider any of the medical or financial impacts the bill would impose on minors or young mothers.

Women's rights groups have known for years that parental consent laws are demonstrably harmful. Activists warned the New York Times as early as 1987 that the regulations "hurt teenagers." Over the years, numerous studies have confirmed this: Parental consent laws force kids to tell their parents that, indeed, they have been having sex and became pregnant. This might lead to children getting kicked out of their homes. Or, parents may force their children to carry unwanted babies to term. In the worst cases, the laws force kids to keep their pregnancies secret — and terminate them using dangerous, under-the-table procedures.

Studies have also shown the bills don't actually impact abortion rates — instead, teens scrape together resources to travel to states without consent laws. In 2009, the Guttmacher Institute — a group that supports abortion access — published a study noting that the "clearest documented impact of parental involvement laws is an increase in the number of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortion services in states that do not mandate parental involvement or that have less restrictive laws."

Even if parents are willing to let their children have abortions, the law still makes those procedures riskier. Getting a notarized statement takes time, and, as pregnancies progress, abortions become riskier to perform. If minors want to get around the consent laws, they typically need to obtain judicial orders — an even more time-consuming practice.

Florida's Planned Parenthood chapter spent yesterday monitoring the bill's committee hearing. The organization has consistently opposed HB 1335 and its companion bill in the Florida Senate, SB 1774. In a long series of tweets yesterday, Planned Parenthood called the bill an "attack on at-risk youth" in Florida.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, another group that fights for abortion access, last week described the bill as logically psychotic:
"Anti-choice politicians in Florida want the state to join the 36 others who force pregnant teenagers to give birth if a judge decides they aren’t 'mature' enough to choose abortion," NARAL warned on Twitter. "Yes, you read that right."
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli