Florida governor to sign anti-abortion bill that will put teens in danger

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Experts say the bill won't strengthen families — it will only delay care and cause pain.

In late February, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that forces minors seeking an abortion in the state to obtain parental consent.

The bill has already passed the state's Senate and goes next to conservative Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signaled that he would sign it in his recent State of the State address.

Under current law, parents are already required to be notified. The new bill will require a physician to obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian before they perform an abortion on a minor and makes failing to do so a third-degree felony leading to up to 5 years in prison.

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One of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Rep. Erin Grall, argued, "By including parents in this decision we empower the family. It is the critical backbone of our civilized society."

But some experts disagree. In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence released an official statement condemning mandatory parental consent laws, citing evidence that such laws "may have an adverse impact on some families" and that this type of legislation "increases the risk of medical and psychological harm" to the minor.

Most teenagers voluntarily consult a parent about their choice to have an abortion. One study, published in the journal Family Planning Perspectives, showed that in states where parental consent is not required, 61% of teens told one or both parents about their plan to obtain an abortion. That number goes up dramatically the younger the minor: Fully 90% of those under 14 told a parent.

When teenagers decide not to tell a parent about their intent to have an abortion, it's often for good reasons. The same study showed that 8% of teenagers who did not tell a parent about their abortion didn't do so because they had previously been beaten by their parents. Similarly, 22% of teens who got an abortion didn't tell their parents because they were afraid they'd be kicked out of their home.

In Florida, Grall dismissed those concerns.

Grall acknowledged, "We hear the stories about the bad parent, the human trafficking, the intolerant parent, the abusive parent, the parent who will kill their child."

However, she said, "I refuse to accept that we should diminish the rights of all parents in the raising of their children because of the acts of a few."

In other words, Grall is unconcerned about children being harmed by abusive parents.

Beyond concerns about family, another effect of parental consent laws, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, is that they "can delay and obstruct pregnant adolescents' access to timely professional advice and medical care." The organization calls this scenario "the most damaging."

Minors generally think they're pregnant later than adults do, according to the journal Contraception, so they often don't seek early care to begin with.

But they also frequently don't have a sound understanding of their rights to medical care, and a fear of a lack of confidentiality causes some to avoid seeking help, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

And when you add parental consent laws in the mix, further delaying access to care, the rates of teens having abortions later in pregnancy skyrocket.

When Texas passed a parental consent law, later abortion rates for 17-year-olds increased by 21%. Missouri saw a 17% leap.

The result for teenagers is added stress and costs — as later procedures tend to be more expensive and more difficult to arrange.

 The Florida law does contain a judicial bypass provision, allowing a minor to petition a judge for a waiver. Those provisions aren't generally helpful, however.

 The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that such provisions may still delay access to care. In Florida, even the expedited nature of the law's judicial waiver hearing can take up to 6 days — longer if there is a weekend involved.

A waiver process also requires minors to navigate a complex judicial system. In Florida, the teenager would have to figure out which circuit court jurisdiction they reside in and file a formal petition. The court could delay acting on the petition, which would require the minor to petition for a hearing.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and access to care is delayed. This can also lead to force teens to go out of state to receive abortion care or even seek illegal procedures.

"We are codifying into law that someone else can force a girl to have a child she does not want to have," Democratic Rep. Susan Valdes said during the 5-hour-long debate over the measure.

"I worry that many girls will, when deprived access to a safe termination of pregnancy, take the risks of finding an unsafe, dangerous and untested method of terminating their pregnancies," Valdes said.

The concern about these sorts of laws isn't limited to one person or organization. Every major medical association — the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Public Health Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — opposes parental consent laws.

They don't strengthen the family and they don't decrease abortion rates, but they do put adolescents at greater risk.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.