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Controversial Parental Consent Abortion Legislation Ready For Vote In Florida Senate

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, an opponent of the SB 404, known as the Parental Consent Bill, speaks at a press conference at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Tallahassee.
Aileen Perilla
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Florida bill that would require teenagers under 18 years of age to get parental permission for an abortion passed its final Senate committee this week. The legislation requires parents of minor girls seeking an abortion to have a notarized consent form before a doctor can perform the procedure. Florida law currently requires parents to be notified.

A doctor who doesn’t get the parents okay could face prison time. Democrats argue that the bill is an attempt to erode abortion rights. Republicans disagree—arguing the legislation protects minors.

State Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing Ocala, is a co-sponsor of the bill. State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat of Orange County, opposes it. They joined the Florida Roundup to discuss the issue.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

The Florida Roundup: Why do you think this legislation, the parental consent legislation for an abortion, is needed in Florida?

STATE SENATOR DENNIS BAXLEY: Well, it's very important that we reaffirm that parents need a part of every major decision. These are minors. They cannot give consent for anything--whether it's doing a business transaction, or medical services, or even getting a tattoo or your ears pierced, or aspirin at school. So, I think it's very important that we get parents back involved in that decision-making process, not only as a matter of parental rights but parental responsibility, whether you're pro-life or pro-choice.  

The Florida Roundup: What do you mean, "back" into that decision? Current law, which was passed recently, allows for parental notification. This would go one step further for that consent. So, when you're talking about getting back into it, what are you referring to, Senator? 

BAXLEY In the decision-making process of giving consent—because notification is not consent. It's just letting you know they were in that situation and made that decision, apart from you. And many times, it's after the fact.

The Florida Roundup: But are you referring, though, getting back to that, that there was a time period in Florida where parents had to give consent for a minor daughter to receive an abortion?

BAXLEY: Well, it's been a matter of everything in their lives. They're minors. They're children. That's why we make sure every child has a parent or guardian. And we still have a very legitimate bypass in this bill for those situations where that relationship is dysfunctional.

The Florida Roundup: Senator, you know, though, the right to privacy is a key constitutional question when it comes to issues of abortion and particularly of parental consent in Florida. The constitution in Florida does provide for a right to privacy. Every natural citizen, every natural person, it reads, has the right to be, let alone. How does this legislation comport with that?

BAXLEY: Well, we believe that application needs to be revisited, and we expect that it probably will be in light of this legislation. And the reason it needs to be revisited is it's been too broadly interpreted. That provision was for the privacy, particularly developed in the age when so much information gathering was being shared. People's lives were being invaded and that was its primary purpose. And this was quite a stretch to pull it over and use it to intervene in a family situation where parental responsibility needs to be acknowledged.

The Florida Roundup: Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani represents parts of Orange County. She was the senior director for Planned Parenthood in central and southwest Florida before being elected to the Florida House. Representative Eskamani,  you're a pro-choice politician. You're a former Planned Parenthood staffer. So why in your view, then, is the parental consent bill bad policy? 

STATE REPRESENTATIVE ANNA ESKAMANI:  Well, it's when you center the conversation on directly impacted people, as unfortunately, Senator Baxley fails to do and alongside many of his colleagues. The harsh reality is that you cannot dictate and use legislation to build a relationship between a young person and their parent. Unfortunately, when it comes to young people accessing an abortion, data as of December 2016, it puts that [at] four percent.

 So, we're talking about a small population of folks who make this decision [in] their pregnancy at a young age. Over two-thirds of that population are already talking to their parent or guardian. And the 30 percent that don't--they fear physical harm or abuse if they involve that parent. And as noted in the introduction to this segment, Florida already has present notification law.

So you're not going to see a situation in Florida where a young person is ending a pregnancy without some sort of parental engagement or just a bypass. Which actually to correct the senator, you must seek a waiver within the city, community you live. You cannot go to any judicial circuit court at this moment of time, which can be very burdensome for a young person, a young person who this state says is mature enough to become a parent. But if they do not want to become a parent are all of a sudden too immature to make that decision.

The Florida Roundup:  You've called the parental consent bill something of a Trojan horse. You perceive that it's a mechanism to trigger even more restrictive abortion legislation in Florida and perhaps even filter its way up from this state to the Supreme Court, which is looking at abortion this upcoming cycle. Can you explain what you mean by that? 

ESKAMANI: I would love to. And listeners probably know that as we have this conversation, it's on the same week of the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. March for Life is in D.C., with President Trump being the first sitting president to speak at that rally. And, of course, the United States Supreme Court will be seeing its first abortion case since the new conservative appointees.

The state of Florida is very similar. As noted previously, we have a very strong right to privacy enshrined in our state constitution. That is a value to Floridians.

And what our colleagues on the opposite side of the aisle wish to do is actually re-litigate parental consent legislation with now a more conservative Supreme Court--with the hope of opening up the doors for abortion bans like in Georgia to be seen in Florida. Last year, Florida was the only state in the southeast that did not pass any type of ban on abortion access. And that's very much grounded in our strong right to privacy. Which Senator Baxley himself has made speeches on this, saying that he wants to see more restrictive anti-abortion legislation pass and this is their key to doing that. 

The Florida Roundup:  When we look at this, not only in the context of Florida but the nation, as you pointed out, Representative Eskamani, President Trump is speaking at the annual March for Life rally. His base is strongly pro-life. That said, a majority of Americans do support at least some abortion access. So, the politics of this are difficult. How do you see this playing in Florida politically? The state is split right down the middle. We're coming up on a 2020 election. And this issue motivates a lot of voters on both sides.

ESKAMANI: It's a great question. And the reality is that a majority of Floridians agree that Roe v. Wade should be maintained as the law of the land, and that abortion should remain safe and legal. And, of course, to your point, there are different perspectives on, you know, what does that look like in someone's personal decision-making process? Ultimately, that privacy piece is so key.

I mean, Florida voters turned down, years ago, Amendment 6 on the ballot, which was attempting to erode that right to privacy. Arguably there is a consensus that privacy is important and that we must respect personal medical decisions, whether it's to end a pregnancy, raise a child, or choose adoption. We see support around the notion of that decision being made between a woman, her family, her doctor, her God, and not politicians.

On the campaign trail, you know, we have these conversations in my district, and I really honor the opportunity to have dialogue and have conversations. And what you see overwhelmingly is a commitment to empower young people, is a commitment to ensure that there is access to preventative measures, whether it's comprehensive sexual health, education that includes abstinence as a method of birth control, or ensuring access to that contraception through different health centers.

And as someone who lost her mom to cancer 16 years ago today, I don't know what I would have done if I became pregnant at age 14, 15, 16, because I did not have a parent in my life. And my story is the story of vulnerable youth across this state, which now this legislative body is once more using as a political pawn to ultimately ban abortion across the state. And unfortunately, it's not an original attempt. You know, we see these patterns across the country, but I feel very optimistic that we can't always control the votes within the legislative body. We can't control the public outcry around us. And that's my commitment this session and, of course, going into November 2020.

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Denise Royal