The Nation

Fight Ongoing for Florida Teen Privacy

Saturday, May 20, 2000

The battle over parental notification will continue in Florida, even though a state court judge on May 12 threw out the state's 1-year-old law.

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The battle over parental notification will continue in Florida, even though a state court judge on May 12 threw out the state's 1-year-old law that requires doctors to notify parents of children under 18 at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed.

The ruling by trial court judge Terry Lewis encouraged abortion rights groups but angered right-to-lifers. Proponents--and the judge--say confidential health care is protected by the state constitution. Opponents say it's inconsistent that under Florida law juveniles can't get a tattoo or take aspirin at school without parental permission but they can get an abortion.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Jeb Bush said the state would continue its appeal of an earlier ruling of Terry's that barred the law taking effect while he considered its merits.

The ruling doesn't surprise Bush but he is disappointed, said his spokeswoman Liz Hirst.

Both sides involved in the case agree the issue is likely to end up before the state Supreme Court.

Friday's ruling was the fifth time in 11 years that enforcement of a Florida abortion law was blocked. Forty-two states have parental involvement laws but only 31 are enforcing them.

"It sends the message to the hypothetical 13 year old, if you make the choice we want you to, we will leave you alone," Lewis wrote in an 18-page order. "If you don't, we're going to make it more difficult for you to exercise your choice … This is exactly the kind of government interference into personal, intimate decisions that the privacy clause (in the state constitution) protects against."

Lewis added that it would be great if every teen came from "a Norman Rockwell family," but not all teens can talk to their parents about their pregnancy. And in the case of incest, some girls may be in danger if one or both of their parents knew about a pending abortion, he noted.

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, a legal advocacy organization representing the plaintiffs, were pleased with Lewis' ruling.

In a statement, Simon Heller, the center's director of litigation, said: "Today's decision reaffirms that singling out young women seeking abortions by depriving them of access to confidential health care violates the Florida Constitution and imposes needless risks on their health.

"We are hopeful that, in light of Judge Lewis' decision, based directly on binding Florida Supreme Court precedent, Governor Bush and the Florida legislature will start taking seriously their oath to uphold the Florida constitution and stop meddling in the private medical decisions of Florida women," Heller added.

The Florida Right to Life organization expressed outrage at the decision.

"How bizarre that in Florida we have passed a law that requires parental permission for a tattoo, but can't even require that a parent be notified when their little girl undergoes an intrusive surgical procedure," the group said in a statement.

Tallahassee attorney Charlene Carres, counsel for North Florida Women's Health & Counseling Services Inc., disagrees with that argument.

"The decision whether or not to give birth to a child, you can't get any more personal than that," Carres said. "I don't know anybody that as the result of having a tattoo had to raise a child for 18 years."

 
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