Senate Bill 404: A Threat to Women’s Rights

By: Erika Porrino

On January 22, 2020, the Rules Committee voted to pass Senate Bill 404.[i]This bill requires minors to get parental consent in order to terminate a pregnancy.[ii]Under Senate Bill 404, minors are required to get notarized written consent from a legal guardian or, alternatively, obtain a judicial waiver from the court to access abortion care.[iii]There is an exception to this requirement, under circumstances of a medical emergency, where limited time exists to receive consent.[iv]The bill creates additional obstacles for minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy, as there is already a voter-backed parental notice law in place that was approved in 2004, which requires minors to “notify their parents or guardians before an abortion.”[v]According to the Pensacola News Journal, “supporters of the bill quoted scripture, told personal stories involving abortion and defended the proposal as bringing families closer.”[vi]However, opponents argue the legislation is a violation of constitutional guarantees, and more importantly, a disappointing threat to women’s reproductive rights.[vii]

Women’s rights activists and advocacy groups have fired back at the new legislation, arguing that the bill is a tactical move by anti-abortion politicians to secure conservative voters. Heather Shumaker, Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, asserts that “there has been no demonstrated need for this legislation, which makes sense, because it is not really about parental advice or guidance- it is about anti-abortion politicians setting up restrictions that get in the way of young people getting the health care they need.”[viii]Shumaker is correct that this bill is not about parental guidance because no law will ever force an unwanted family conversation to take place. In addition, an article published by Progress Florida called the bill an “attack against reproductive freedom”, and claims the Florida Legislature is planning to “to end reproductive freedom in Florida by ushering in what is deceptively packaged as a family-friendly measure.”[ix]However, the Florida Legislature does not recognize the familial rifts this bill will cause in instances where minors are forced to carry children against their will. On the day the bill was passed, Karla Gross, Legislative Director at the ACLU of Florida, responded to the bill in a statement, saying “Today, on the 47th anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade, Florida politicians voted to strip young people of their constitutionally protected right to end an unintended pregnancy. Politicians have no business preventing young people from obtaining safe and legal medical care.”[x]It is deeply concerning that the Florida Legislature is depriving young adults of their constitutional rights using a “family-oriented” disguise. Several organizations, including the ACLU, have also addressed the consequences this bill will have on the health of minors who fear seeking parental consent.[xi]

Minors who do not feel comfortable discussing their abortion with parents will face painful or, in extreme cases, fatal consequences. In Gross’ statement for the ACLU, she also discusses how the bill could result in young girls seeking dangerous methods to terminate pregnancies without access to proper medical care.[xii]She claims, “this bill will decrease the likelihood that minors who are pregnant will confide in their parents or guardians, resulting in them seeking unsafe methods to end their pregnancies and ultimately jeopardize their lives.”[xiii]Female politicians, including Florida Senator, Lauren Book, have also recognized the potential medical dangers of passing this bill.[xiv]Book recently stated that “something really scary happens when you create restrictive laws on abortion access, when you put young girls and women in a desperate position.”[xv]Civil rights organizations fear the bill will put young girls in a situation that could compromise their health and well-being, leading to possibly fatal consequences because of their age. The Human Rights Watch asserts that “public health research has shown that mandated parental involvement can delay care, leading to riskier or more complicated abortions,” and, moreover, that “delays can be especially harmful to adolescent girls, as they often suspect pregnancy later than adults and take longer to confirm a pregnancy.”[xvi]It appears many, mostly male, Florida lawmakers have ignored these serious health concerns.

Although the government should not endorse a particular religion, that does not appear to be the case here. Several pro-life supporters of the bill “cited the bible in their appeals to lawmakers.”[xvii]This includes Bonnie Coffey Cannone of Abolish Abortion Florida, who mentioned “‘Exodus 20:13 states you shall not murder. Genesis 9:6 states whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed for God made man in his own image.’”[xviii]Many would agree that abortion is an ongoing church-state separation issue. In an article for the Tampa Bay Times, Florida State University Student, Benjamin Robbins, responded eloquently to these biblical references, stating that “we have to remember that this country is based on the freedom of religion- what the bible says doesn’t necessarily coincide with what we should put into our lives.”[xix]Despite this foundation in religious freedom, the Florida Legislature has chosen to enact a law that strongly favors particular religious beliefs, often held among conservative Christian voters. Planned Parenthood has also claimed that Senator Dennis Baxley, a supporter of Senate Bill 404, discussed the motivations behind the legislation to appease a crowd at a Christian Coalition Event.[xx]The organization claims that Baxley admitted the “dark truth behind the real motivation” for the bill.[xxi]Planned Parent says that “a vote for this bill is a vote to open the door to a flood of abortion restrictions that have been, up until now, overturned in the courts.” Hence, the justification behind the bill appears to be tied up with personal religious beliefs and motivations that have no place in the government’s law-making process.[xxii]

The passing of Senate Bill 404 is an unfortunate step backward for women’s reproductive rights in Florida. By using this bill to entice anti-abortion voters, Florida’s lawmakers have chosen to put the lives of many young girls in danger by restricting their access to appropriate medical care. In addition, the government is combining church and state, despite our country’s foundation on freedom of religion.

[i]ACLU, ACLU of Florida Denounces Passage of Senate Bill Requiring Minors to Obtain Parental Consent in Order to Stop Being Pregnant(January 22, 2020), https://www.aclufl.org/en/press-releases/aclu-florida-denounces-passage-senate-bill-requiring-minors-obtain-parental-consent.

[ii]Id.

 

[iii]Id.

 

[iv]Andrew Krietz, Florida Senate committee approves a bill requiring parent consent for abortion, 10 News(December 10, 2019), https://www.wtsp.com/article/news/politics/florida-senate-committee-approves-bill-requiring-parental-consent-for-abortion/67-d7372657-0a40-4f94-993b-c2d9063cacff.

 

[v]Id.

 

[vi]John Kennedy, Florida Senate approves parental consent for abortion, Pensacola News Journal(December 10, 2019), https://www.pnj.com/story/news/2019/12/10/florida-senate-panel-approves-parental-consent-abortion/4390072002/.

 

[vii]Id.

 

[viii]Heather Shumaker, From Bad to Worse: Florida Senate Bill 404 Would Further Restrict Abortion Access for Young People, National Women’s Law Center (January 22, 2020), https://nwlc.org/blog/from-bad-to-worse-florida-senate-bill-404-would-further-restrict-abortion-access-for-young-people/.

 

[ix]Amy Weintraub, Fast tracked: a big attack on reproductive freedom, Progress Florida(November 7, 2019), https://www.progressflorida.org/blog/2019/11/fast-tracked-big-attack-reproductive-freedom.

 

[x]ACLU, ACLU of Florida Denounces Passage of Senate Bill Requiring Minors to Obtain Parental Consent in Order to Stop Being Pregnant(January 22, 2020), https://www.aclufl.org/en/press-releases/aclu-florida-denounces-passage-senate-bill-requiring-minors-obtain-parental-consent.

 

[xi]Id.

 

[xii]Id.

 

[xiii]Id.

 

[xiv]Elizabeth Koh, Abortion parental consent bill passes early obstacle, Tampa Bay Times(December 10, 2019), https://www.tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/2019/12/10/abortion-parental-consent-bill-passes-early-obstacle/.

 

[xv]Id.

 

[xvi]Humans Rights Watch, Florida: Reject Forced Parental Consent for Abortion, (January 14, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/14/florida-reject-forced-parental-consent-abortion.

 

[xvii]Koh, supranote xv.

 

[xviii]Id.

 

[xix]Id.

 

[xx]Planned Parenthood, Senator Baxley, White Supremacy, and Senate Bill 404 (November 7, 2019), https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/florida-alliance-planned-parenthood-affiliates/blog/senator-baxley-white-supremacy-and-senta-bill-404

 

[xxi]Id.

 

[xxii]Id.

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