Florida Supreme Court Rules Parental Consent Law Unconstitutional
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A law requiring pregnant girls to get parental consent before having an abortion was struck down by the state Supreme Court on Thursday, just five days before lawmakers were to consider restricting access to abortions.
The split decision said Florida’s constitutional guarantee of privacy outweighed the 1988 statute requiring consent of a parent, guardian or judge for a minor’s abortion.
Attorney General Bob Butterworth immediately said his office would petition the court for a rehearing.
″The challenged statute fails because it intrudes upon the privacy of the pregnant minor from conception to birth,″ the court wrote. ″Such a substantial invasion of a pregnant female’s privacy by the state for the full term of the pregnancy is not necessary for the preservation of maternal health or the potentiality of life.″
The court heard the case of a 15-year-old Lake County girl, identified in court records only as ″T.W.″ She was denied permission for an abortion by a local judge, but her appeal wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which returned the case without comment to the Florida Supreme Court.
In the decision, the Florida court noted the U.S. Supreme Court ″has made it clear that the states, not the federal government, are the final guarantors of personal privacy.″
″We can conceive of few more personal or private decisions concerning one’s body that one can make in the course of a lifetime,″ the court determined in upholding a 5th District Court of Appeals decision.
The court’s ruling came just five days before a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Bob Martinez to consider further abortion restrictions.
″I’m going to work to make certain that somehow parental consent comes back,″ Martinez said. He also is seeking fetal viability tests; a ban on use of public funds, personnel and facilities for abortions; tougher abortion clinic standards; and a notice to women seeking abortions on the development of their fetuses.
″If the Florida Supreme Court will not protect children, and parents cannot, then the Legislature must, by passing new abortion clinic regulations,″ Martinez said.
Senate President Bob Crawford said he planned to ask Martinez to postpone the special session in wake of the court’s decision.
″I think it demonstrates very clearly that the abortion session is premature,″ Crawford said.
″I hope the Florida Legislature will look to this ruling next week and understand the implications in regard to the govenor’s ill-conceived plan to restrict access to abortion,″ said Janis Compton-Carr of the Florida Abortion Rights Action League, a pro-choice organization.
Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, said the ruling was ″without question ... very important for the pro-choice movement.″
″As an ordinary citizen, I was thrilled,″ she said in a telephone interview from Washington.
Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, called the ruling a major victory for the women of Florida.
″It is a strong message from the Florida Supreme Court that Governor Martinez and his allies in the Legislature cannot tamper with a woman’s fundamental right to choose abortion,″ she said.
″The court was not fooled by attempts to restrict the right to choose under the guise of parental consent laws. No law can mandate healthy and loving family relationships,″ Michelman added.
Reaction to the court’s decision fell along lines already drawn in the state battle over abortion.
″It’s very clear that this is a direct and very explicit endorsement of the right to privacy,″ said attorney, Jerri Blair, who represented the teen- ager. ″It provides extra insulation to right of choice in Florida.″
In Washington, Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, said the Florida decision sends ″a powerful message to the Supreme Court.″
″Our position is that the constitutional right to abortion extends to all women, regardless of their age, regardless of where they reside,″ she said.
Ken Connor, president of Florida Right to Life, called the decision ″a big defeat for the unborn child.″
The court opinion revealed that T.W. lawfully received an abortion while the case was under review. She was described in court records as a high school student active in band and flag corps who was worried that news of an abortion would ″kill″ her ailing mother.
Four of the seven justices concurred in the decision, two partially dissented and Justice Parker McDonald dissented completely. He wrote that he found the statute constitutional because common law provides that minors do not have the right to enter into contracts.
The court agreed to hear the case on an expedited schedule and held oral arguments June 27. But after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in July giving states more latitude to regulate abortions, the Florida court asked the parties to submit new briefs taking that decision and Florida’s privacy provision into account.
Also Thursday, State Health and Rehabilitative Services Secretary Greg Coler signed an emergency order to shut down a clinic where abortions are performed, the third facility to be closed in the past two weeks for unsanitary conditions.
″There were dead cockroaches in the sterilizing room and men’s old, dirty socks on the shelf in the recovery room,″ Coler said of the Ladies First Medical Group in Pembroke Pines. ″There was no soap at the clinic’s three sinks, and there wasn’t a single sterile surgical glove in the place.″
HRS used its emergency powers to close two Miami abortion clinics last week.
Martinez has recommended that the legislature give HRS more power to regulate conditions at private abortion clinics. HRS currently can close the clinics if the agency finds a clear danger to public health.