February 13, 2001
volume 12, no. 44

Florida Court Upholds Parental Notification Law

    TALLAHASSEE, FL (Orlando Sentinel from ProLifeInfo.org) - In a major victory for pro-life advocates, a Florida appeals court Friday unanimously upheld a state law requiring that parents or a judge be notified before a minor gets an abortion.

    Reversing a lower court, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that the 1999 law serves a "compelling state interest" by helping parents and guardians assist their daughters with an often traumatic medical decision. A circuit judge last year threw out the law, saying it violated the Florida Constitution's right-to-privacy provision.

    Pro-life advocates hailed Friday's ruling, although the battle over the law looks certain to shift to the Florida Supreme Court.

    "In one word -- hallelujah," said Terry Kemple, executive director of the Orlando-based Christian Coalition of Florida. "It's been decided by Florida society that a minor girl can't get her ears pierced without parental consent, and she can't get an aspirin at school without parents' consent. This just applies the same common sense."

    Pro-abortion organizations said they were hopeful the ruling would be overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which first extended the privacy provision to abortion with a landmark 1989 ruling.

    In a case brought by a Lake County girl known only as "T.W.," justices that year declared unconstitutional a law demanding parental consent for minors seeking abortions. The author of that pivotal 4-3 decision, Justice Leander Shaw, is the senior member of the Florida Supreme Court. Since 1989, five key pro-life laws have been blocked by Florida courts, with the state's constitutional right to privacy cited each time.

    In its ruling Friday, the appellate court's three-judge panel acknowledged the parental-notice law interferes with the constitutional "right to be let alone" and free from government intrusion. But the panel also ruled that a "compelling state interest exists" when an unmarried minor seeks an abortion.

    "We think it's an unfortunate ruling," said Bebe Anderson, lead counsel and an attorney with the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York.

    The law requires abortion practitioners to notify one of the parents or a legal guardian if anyone younger than 18 seeks an abortion. The notice would have to be made at least 48 hours before the abortion, either in person, by phone or by certified mail. Teenagers looking to avoid such notice could seek a court order from a judge. For abortion practitioners, failing to provide notice could result in civil fines and penalties, including loss of license.

    Abortion advocates said they hope to keep the law from being enforced while it is being appealed.

    The measure was sponsored by Sen. Charles Bronson, R-Satellite Beach, and Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa. Neither could be reached for comment late Friday.

    The law was challenged by abortion facilities and pro-abortion groups that felt confident it would be overturned by the state's high court. "We have been fortunate in Florida," said Charli Summers, executive director of Florida Planned Parenthood. "Our Legislature keeps passing restrictive laws, and the governor signs them. The only thing that keeps us from being thrown back into the Stone Age is the courts."

    But Ken Sukhia, the lawyer who argued the case for the state Department of Health, said the court showed wisdom in its decision. "This is a victory for every mother and father in the state whose right to be involved in some respect in such a profound decision has been upheld," Sukhia said.

    Pro-life Governor Jeb Bush, who signed the notice bill into law, praised the opinion, written by Judge Robert T. Benton II and backed by Judges Charles Miner and Edwin Browning. "It seems only reasonable that a parent be informed when their child is undergoing a major surgical procedure," Bush said.

    The U.S. Supreme Court in 1990 ruled that states may require notification of at least one parent or a judge when a girl younger than 18 seeks an abortion. With its notice law, Florida at the time became the 40th state to adopt laws requiring minors to obtain parental permission or notice before having an abortion.

    Indeed, just days before Florida's governor signed the law, his brother, President Bush, then Texas governor, signed a similar bill. The Texas parental-notice measure went into effect. But just as in Florida, three other states with constitutional privacy provisions have struck down parental-involvement laws.

    In throwing out Florida's law last year, Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled the measure was "exactly the kind of government interference into personal, intimate decisions that the privacy clause protects against."

    But Orange County Commissioner Bob Sindler, who sponsored a similar bill as a state legislator, said parental notice is needed. "In any medical procedure, the parents should be notified. And this is a serious medical procedure," Sindler said. "It's really a protection of the minor."

February 13, 2001
volume 12, no. 42
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