Legislation that would require consent from a parent or guardian before a girl under 18 could obtain an abortion passed the Florida House on Wednesday night after a lengthy debate and amid questions about its constitutionality.
The Republican-led House voted 69-44 largely along party lines for the bill, which now moves to the Senate where a similar bill is pending.
The measure sponsored by GOP Rep. Erin Grall of Vero Beach would require that a minor get written, notarized permission from a parent or a legal guardian to obtain an abortion. Florida now only requires that parents be notified that their child is seeking an abortion.
"The reason that a child should seek the consent of their parent is because the parent is in the most unique and beneficial position to advise that child," Grall said during more than three hours of debate. "Overwhelmingly, parents could offer a perspective, and advice and counsel, that is not available from any other person."
The measure also provides that a minor could ask a circuit court judge to waive the parental consent provision under certain circumstances, such as when a girl is a child abuse or sexual abuse victim. That is similar to the current parental notification law; in 2017, out of about 1,500 abortions in Florida involving minor girls there were 205 judicial waivers granted, Grall said.
The bill would allow girls to be represented by an attorney for free when seeking a waiver.
Democrats generally opposed the bill, contending among other things that not all children are comfortable with telling parents they are pregnant and in some cases might face reprisals, ridicule or even violence.
"If she's old enough to become a mother, she's old enough to make the decision of the right path for herself," said Rep. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat.
A previous such law was ruled unconstitutional in 1989 by the Florida Supreme Court on privacy rights grounds and many Democrats said this bill might meet the same fate. But the high court now has a more conservative bench with three new justices appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that could change a future outcome.
"Simply put, this bill is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Florida has already ruled on this exact point," said Democratic Rep. Joe Geller of Dania Beach. "Why are we doing it again?"
The bill also increases penalties for health practitioners who violate current law requiring that an infant born alive during an abortion must be cared for and taken to a hospital. The penalty for violations would go from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
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