Florida Democratic lawmakers and student activists stalled a forced parental consent for abortion bill last week by delaying a state senate committee vote by at least a month.
The senate committee on health policy was scheduled to vote on the bill November 12 as a first step to a full senate vote next year. The parental consent bill, SB 404, would make it illegal to provide abortion care to a minor without written consent from a parent or legal guardian. Florida already requires parents or guardians be notified before a minor’s abortion.
The anti-choice bill has been called a “stalking horse” meant to overhaul Florida’s constitutional right to privacy, which state courts have interpreted to protect access to abortion. Anti-choice lawmakers and activists hope new conservative justices will rule in favor of the legislation—and for more limited privacy rights—if it reaches the Florida Supreme Court. The house version of the bill, HB 265, passed its committee in October and will be up for a full vote when the legislative session starts in the first week of January. Republicans hold the governorship and both chambers of Florida’s legislature.
Young people who showed up to speak last week on the anti-choice legislation’s potential impact helped delay the committee’s vote, while Democratic lawmakers introduced amendments that slowed the bill’s passage through committee. “My Democratic colleagues and I wanted SB 404 to have a full and complete hearing,” state Sen. Lori Berman (D-Palm Beach County) told Rewire.News. “We filed 15 amendments on substantive issues that would have made the bill better, although we fundamentally had problems with the bill overall. Hearing the amendments took up most of the committee’s time.”
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The Democrats’ amendments addressed concerns with the legislation, among them the process of judicial bypass, a system allowing minors who cannot involve a parent to bypass the law and seek permission from a judge. But the process, which already exists for the state’s parental notification law, is confusing to navigate. Only 16 percent of Florida counties had courthouse clerks prepared to answer questions about the judicial bypass process, according to research from If/When/How, a reproductive justice legal organization.
Senate Democrats introduced several amendments to improve the judicial waiver system by developing training materials for circuit court clerks and staff, enforcing mandatory annual training, and creating a hotline and online portal for young people trying to get information in English, Spanish, Creole, and Portuguese. Along with the rest of the 15 amendments filed by Democrats, these proposals were voted down or not considered by the committee’s Republican majority.
The proposed bill is likely to be raised again when the committee meets next month. “SB 404 still needs to be fully fleshed out, and we’ll have the opportunity to do so next month,” Berman said. “We plan to continue questioning and debating the bill.”
At the hearing last week, advocates who wished to testify received appearance cards to note if they were in support of or against the bill and each amendment. Laura Hernandez, a legislative representative with Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida, said she noticed students slated to speak against the anti-choice measure were being skipped as amendments were called. After one person stood up to criticize legislators for not calling their name, committee members began calling the full list of appearance cards, Hernandez said.
“It was frustrating because the [students] were following the rules and trying to explain their amendments and ask the sponsor about some of the deficiencies and concerns about the bill,” Hernandez told Rewire.News. “I wish we had more time because we had so many great people that wanted to testify, so many young people that wanted to speak on their personal experiences.”
Student activists who appeared at committee last week said underestimating the potential impact of the bill would be an egregious error. “[It] threatens access to abortion for young Floridians,” said Michelle Stern, president of Florida State University’s Generation Action, a collegiate affiliate of Planned Parenthood. “As a young woman, this is deeply concerning. … Young people need to understand that everything in life is politics. Politics affects our daily lives and we ought to have a say in the legislation that is being made in our state. Our right to choose must be protected for the generations who come after us.”
“[This] could have affected me just two years ago. And not in a positive way,” Sarah Adams, vice president of Generation Action at Florida State University, told Rewire.News. “The legislators and anti-choice groups pushing forward these types of harmful legislation are not going to be affected by them; we the young people will be. This is why it’s so important that people our age are engaging and actively participating in the fight for reproductive rights and justice. It’s our rights, bodies, and futures.”
Many college students in Tallahassee, the home of Florida State University, get involved in state politics because campuses are located close to the state Capitol. During the week before the committee meeting, students joined Rosie Richeson, a regional organizer with Planned Parenthood, to collect 200 signatures for a petition against the proposed bill and recruit 40 people to attend the committee hearing.
Richeson said collecting petition signatures and helping young people understand how this bill could affect them is important as the legislation moves forward. Advocates are working closely with supporters across the state to make clear that the GOP’s intention is not to ensure safety for young people but to bring the bill before the Florida Supreme Court.
“[It’s] not about trying to protect young people or improve communication,” Hernandez said.