Florida Senate Bill 2446 – Parental Notice of Abortion Act

28 Apr

Sitting on the cold, white tile of a bathroom floor, hugging her knees tightly to her chest is a slender, brunette, 14-year-old girl named Tara. Her heart is pounding like that of a humming bird. In her right hand, she’s holding onto a plastic, white stick. A cool damp sweat is starting to cover her hands as she awaits the appearance of what she hopes will be one single, pink line. Just outside the bathroom door, she can hear her drunk dad yelling at the TV, followed by the glass explosion of a liquor bottle as it shatters against the wall. She checks her watch anxiously waiting for the two minutes to be up. She closes her eyes as she tilts her head back, thinking about all the possible outcomes. The timer on her watch goes off. She braces herself for what she’s about to find out. Tears start to flow over the rims of her perfectly mascaraed eyes at the sight of two bright pink lines. Curled up, all alone on the frigid bathroom floor, Tara has just learned that she is pregnant—and is facing a flurry of decisions.

Because Tara is under 16 and is a Florida resident, if she chooses to end her pregnancy with an abortion and is unable or unwilling to notify her parents, she will have to face a formidable and complicated court system. In the state of Florida, Senate Bill 2446 – Parental Notice of Abortion Act (SB 2446) requires that if a minor under the age of 16 chooses to terminate a pregnancy, she must notify her parent or guardian. She does not need her parent’s consent, only proof that they have been notified. Although some physician’s policies vary, most require a signed notification form and a copy of the parent or guardian’s ID. The Parental Notice of Abortion Act includes a sub-section allowing for a girl under the age of 16 to petition the court for a judicial bypass waiver of parental notice if she is unable to tell her parents about her decision to have an abortion. In Florida, over 45,000 teens get pregnant every year and 14,000 of them choose to have an abortion. (“Oppose” 1) According to the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, less than 600 teens (or less than one-half percent) petitioned Florida’s courts for a judicial bypass in 2009. The fact is, most girls involve a parent in their decision to have an abortion, and those who don’t usually have a good reason not to. One study showed that 22% of girls who did not tell a parent about their abortion decision feared that if they told their parents, they would be kicked out of the house. More than 8% feared that they would be physically abused because their parents had beaten them before. Of those who did not tell a parent, 12% did not live with either parent and 14% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol. (ACLU, par. 7) When a girl under the age of 16 decides to have an abortion but does not feel it is in her best interest to inform her parents, a functioning judicial system is crucial. The Florida Senate is currently attempting to make amendments to the Parental Notice of Abortion Act that focus entirely on imposing additional barriers and roadblocks to the parental notice judicial bypass system, which could make it almost impossible for a young girl to turn to the courts for protection. The proposed amendments are irrelevant and unnecessary and should not be passed.

Dealing with an unintended pregnancy is a very scary situation for anyone and can leave the strongest of people feeling helpless. For a 16-year-old girl with no support from her parents, it takes a magnitude of courage and maturity to petition the court for Judicial Waiver of Parental Notice. The judicial bypass sub-section of SB 2446 states that a judge must find “clear and convincing evidence that the minor is sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.” (SB 2446) The wording, as is, does not mandate any specific requirements be met about the girl’s individual character, allowing a judge to base his/her decision on each individual case. One of the proposed amendments would require that a judge consider additional futile factors such as; the girl’s overall intelligence, her emotional development and stability, her credibility and demeanor as a witness, her ability to accept responsibility and to assess both immediate and long-range consequences of her choice. This amendment is entirely extraneous and unrealistic. How does a girl prove her overall intelligence to someone she’s never met? Will she have to bring in a report card as evidence? None of these qualities have anything to do with her parent’s ability to treat her situation properly. Furthermore, why does a teen girl’s intelligence, emotional development, credibility or demeanor have anything to do with her ability to choose not to continue a pregnancy? Ironically, women with very low IQ levels, who are emotionally unstable are giving birth to children every day, so why should a young girl have to prove she’s intelligent enough to obtain an abortion without parental notification? Many abortions are acquired at a Planned Parenthood center. Planned Parenthood has the reputation of being an abortion provider, but the truth is abortions make up only 5% of the services they perform each year. (PPFA) They provide regular exams and health-care to millions of women and pride themselves on having a great staff of counselors. When a girl comes to a Planned Parenthood center, she is given a plethora of information about her options. This includes adoption and family planning assistance, along with literature about abortion. Most states enforce a 48-hour waiting period between the time a girl decides to have an abortion and the date it can be done. Dealing with an unintended pregnancy is not something a girl takes lightly and presumably consumes every single one of her thoughts. Of the chance that it was an impulse decision, young girls have the time and material to weigh all their options. If a girl has already been through this and has decided to go forth with petitioning for judicial bypass, she is unquestionably aware of her decisions and the immediate and long-range effects that an abortion will have. This amendment to the judicial bypass sub-section makes no sense and is just another attempt at making it harder for a young girl to obtain an abortion.

Currently, the judicial bypass sub-section allows a girl to file her petition with any circuit court in the district where she resides. For example, if a girl living in Liberty County, FL—part of the second circuit with a population of only 7,021 people (Florida State Courts)—wants to file for judicial bypass, she can currently file her case in any of the six circuit courts in the district that Liberty County is part of. The total population for all counties in that district is 1,933,343 (State of Florida). One of the proposed amendments to SB 2446 would require a girl to file for judicial bypass waver in the circuit court where she resides. This could effectively intimidate a small-town girl who might wish to keep her anonymity during the judicial bypass process, entirely violating the need for the judicial bypass in the first place.

Most teens under the age of 16 do not have jobs. In Florida, a minor under the age of 17 may only work 30 hours-per-week (Florida Child Labor Law), so chances are that even if they are employed, they are not overly wealthy. Because of this, SB 2446 states that “no filing fees or court costs shall be required of any minor.” One of the proposed amendments to the bill will change the wording to say “filing fees or court costs may not be required.” The only reason to make this change would be to independently decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not to charge for judicial bypass but does not set down clear guidelines, rendering the amendment ambiguous. If a girl chooses to have an abortion at a Planned Parenthood facility, the costs is anywhere from 375–500 dollars. Finding a way to come up with that amount of money is a very serious factor for anyone considering an abortion. Asking a teen to possibly be responsible for court costs is simply an attempt to complicate the process. This vague amendment should not be made to the judicial bypass sub-section of SB 2446.

Taking a pregnancy test and ending up staring at those two pink lines can bring out an array of emotions for different people. For girls like Tara who find themselves alone and dealing with an unintended pregnancy, it can be a most devastating feeling. An unwanted pregnancy can turn a girl’s life into a nightmare, especially if their home life is less than ideal to begin with. The need for judicial bypass is essential to the health and needs of many young girls. The amendments being proposed to SB 2446 are just a back-door attempt at making it harder, if not impossible, to obtain an abortion. They are trivial changes to a sufficiently functioning system that was created to assist girls who desperately need the autonomy of the decision to have an abortion. The Florida Senate should not adopt the proposed amendment to the Parental Notice of Abortion act.

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