In a 3-2 partisan vote after more than two hours of testimony and debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday advanced a bill requiring parental consent before minors can have abortions.
Senate Bill 404, filed by committee member Sen. Kelly Stargel, R-Lakeland, now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, its last stop before a floor vote.
The panel approved, then withdrew, an amendment elevating criminal penalties for a physician who “willfully and intentionally performs an abortion” on a minor without parental consent from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
The amendment was designed to align SB 404 with criminal penalties included in House Bill 265, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, which has already advanced through committee reviews and awaits a House vote as, potentially, the first bill adopted during the 2020 session, which began Tuesday.
The committee withdrew the amendment after Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, raised procedural objections regarding the “germanity” of the penalties.
“The new language is not related to parental consent,” Rodriguez argued.
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lady, who in previous sessions has sponsored bills seeking to restrict abortion, if not outlaw it altogether, called Rodriguez’s objection spurious.
“This is very clear; there is no muddy water here. It is how you see parental rights and more importantly, parental responsibility,” he said. “What you are witnessing here is a delay of game. There is no reason to delay. Let’s move forward.”
But panel chair Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, and Stargel agreed to withdraw the amendment and resubmit it before the bill goes to the Rules Committee.
“This bill does have another committee stop,” Stargel said, adding that moving the bill forward in its present form will allow supporters to “clarify” any procedural defects opponents may raise.
The Florida Supreme Court struck down the state’s parental-consent law in 1989. Florida’s current law requires parents only be notified if an unemancipated minor daughter plans an abortion.
Both Stargel’s and Grall’s bills include a judicial waiver process to allow pregnant teenagers to appeal directly to a judge for permission to have an abortion without parental consent.
Stargel agreed to work with Senate Minority Leader Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, on an amendment to make that petition procedure “more of a personal consideration rather than a straight legal process” to be conducted in a judge’s private chambers.
“The process could be intimidating to a young lady that is appearing in court, with the judge sitting high and the individual sitting low,” she said, calling for a “more conversational-type situation, to not add any more trauma or intimidation to the process.”
As with SB 404’s hearing before the Senate Health Policy Committee in December, which approved the measure in a 6-3 partisan vote, a parade of speakers addressed the panel in support and opposition of the bill.
Nathaniel Wilcox of Evidence Ministry and Enough Is Enough said Florida’s abortion laws are sexist and racist.
“As a man I am being told to walk away from our struggles and responsibilities and allow merchants of death to make decisions for me,” he said. “As a black man, I am incensed. We are being told someone else needs to make our decisions – life and death decisions – to walk away from our families, that ‘we know what is best for you.’ Give up my parental rights? Not a chance.”
“This bill will not lead to stronger families but will lead to more girls dying in their basements of sepsis because they are afraid” to inform parents that they are pregnant, said Trish Neely of the Florida League of Women Voters.