Florida came closer this week to expanding the state’s abortion restrictions for young people, as the state senate voted Thursday to pass legislation that would force people under 18 to get a parent’s written permission before obtaining abortion care.
The next stop is the Florida House, where Republicans are united in support of the anti-choice legislation, while house Democrats, many traditionally supporters of abortion access, announced this week that they would not take a caucus position on the bill, considered a “stalking horse” designed to undo the state’s right to privacy. House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee (D-Miami) then assured reproductive rights supporters that “one of the pillars of this caucus is ensuring that a woman’s right to choose is preserved and protected at all cost,” the Miami Herald reported.
The bill is moving forward—with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ support—leaving young people abandoned by both parties and facing new regulations that will endanger their rights, health, safety, and futures.
Forced parental involvement is the reality in 37 states. Florida currently requires a parent be notified of a minor’s abortion, but the proposed legislation will also require health-care providers to obtain a parent or guardian’s written permission. This issue is dividing Democrats in Florida, with lawmakers like Rep. Kimberly Daniels (D-Jacksonville) fervently supporting this anti-abortion measure, citing personal and religious reasons.
That the Florida House’s Democratic caucus has essentially ceded the point to Daniels is consistent with patterns in many state legislatures: Even supporters of abortion rights aren’t willing to put up a fight for young people’s access. It’s no surprise that anti-abortion politicians support forced parental involvement bills. Their movement is working to end abortion access for everyone.
And well-meaning but misguided liberals who will defend every abortion right, except for when it comes to young people, play right into the hands of abortion opponents. This is not a new battle. We have seen, time and again, young people’s rights cast aside for political expediency, even by the politicians and advocates who are supposedly champions for abortion access.
Most young people consult their parents when they need abortion care. But not everyone can. Some are living in abusive families, and are afraid they’ll get hurt if their pregnancy is discovered. Some don’t know how to get in touch with their parents, who may be incarcerated or homeless. And some have pretty good relationships with their folks—they just don’t want to disappoint them. They too have the right to private, compassionate care.
The proposed law allows for “judicial bypass,” as do many forced parental consent laws around the nation. That means if you can’t involve your parents, you have to appear before a judge, who will then assess your maturity and maybe grant you permission. Put another way, that means if you are under 18 and can’t tell your parents about an unintended pregnancy, you have to go to court as though you have committed a crime. You have to submit to an interrogation by a complete stranger, who will determine if you are mature enough to have an abortion. Then that stranger makes the decision for you.
If the judge decides you can’t have an abortion, then you can’t have an abortion in your state.
The judicial bypass process does not offer a pregnant teenager help or support—it forces them to get a lawyer and deal with a legal process at a time when they are dealing with a potentially life-altering situation. All of this takes time, money, and the determination to navigate a complicated legal system.
We are told these laws are helping young people—that we need these laws to ensure their health and safety. We all want to ensure young people’s safety. But government interference in a private decision, in a family conversation, in a family relationship, is not the way.
Florida’s forced parental consent legislation, and all laws like it, leave young people at risk and without recourse. It puts a young person’s decision about their own pregnancy in someone else’s hands, robbing them of the bodily autonomy we are fighting to preserve. All who are concerned about young people’s safety, and all who believe in the right to abortion access, must fight forced parental involvement in young people’s abortion care with as much commitment and ferocity as we would any other attack on abortion rights.