At the start of the 2020 Florida legislative session, Republican lawmakers are already on a fast track to undermine abortion rights.
Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), requires doctors to get written consent from parents or guardians before providing abortion services to minors. In rare cases, minors could seek a judicial waiver from a court.
The new bill comes on the heels of an emerging strategy for eroding abortion access. In early 2019, 10 states including Georgia and Alabama passed legislation outlawing or severely limiting abortion, with the intent of drawing a legal challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. With a new conservative majority on the bench, anti-abortion activists hope to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that effectively legalized abortion across the U.S.
If SB 404 is passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a smaller version of that scenario could play out in Florida.
Abortion rights are currently protected under Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution, which establishes a right to privacy from government intrusion. A 1989 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court found that parental consent laws violate this privacy provision. If SB 404 passes, it will likely face a legal challenge on these exact grounds.
Unlike previous years, however, the Florida Supreme Court has a solid conservative majority. At minimum, the new bench could overturn years of precedent and permit parental consent laws. At maximum, they could overturn privacy protections for abortion in general, opening the door to new anti-abortion bills like those in Georgia and Alabama.
On the merits, this legislation is intrusive and unnecessary. If a minor seeks out abortion services, doctors are already required by law to notify parents. Just the same, families and medical professionals already negotiate this issue in their own homes and doctors’ offices. There is little reason for the state government to get in the middle.
More importantly, the issue of parental consent obscures the larger principle at stake. Unless abortion access is free and unmitigated, people in this state will necessarily be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, a deeply harmful and unsettling outcome that abridges the right to bodily autonomy.
SB 404 is a damaging intrusion and a trojan horse for attacking abortion rights. The Florida Senate should reject this legislation outright.
Nathaniel Sweet is a senior studying political science.