Parental Bypasses Spur Call for More Abortion Guidelines
A new Florida Senate report shows that close to 600 girls turned to state courts for permission to have an abortion without telling their parents last year, with almost all the requests granted.
Critics say the findings underscore the need for stricter guidelines for judges to follow while administering the state’s 2004 parental notice law, and promise to push for legislation next spring.
“We think judges need a clear direction in determining whether a young woman should have an abortion,” said Sheila Hopkins of the Florida Catholic Conference. “I think these numbers show that the requests now are just being rubberstamped.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee found that 595 petitions were filed with Florida courts by girls under age-18 seeking abortions without telling their parents or guardians.
Among those requests, 567 were granted by judges, with another 27 dismissed and two granted without an order issued. The findings were part of a Senate review of an exemption to Florida’s public records law, shielding the names of girls who seek the so-called judicial bypass.
Lawmakers will be asked to renew the exemption next spring. It is scheduled to expire Oct. 1, 2010.
But the effort to extend the records exemption is likely to prove another opening for critics seeking to tighten Florida abortion laws – particularly in an area that intersects with parental rights in an election year. Polls have shown parental notice laws can draw general support even among voters who identify themselves as supporting abortion rights.
Florida is among 35 states that require parental notice or consent before a child has an abortion. All provide a judicial bypass considered critical by many experts to maintaining the law’s constitutionality, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York public policy organization.
Florida lawmakers earlier pushed for tighter standards for judges reviewing minors’ abortion requests. In 2007, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, sponsored legislation that would have had judges consider a youngster’s credibility, emotional stability and “ability to understand and explain the medical consequences of terminating her pregnancy.”
The measure, which failed to clear the Senate, also would have required minors seeking abortion to have a guardian ad litem as a counsel.
Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Associates, said Florida’s parental notice law already provides sufficient guidance to courts. The law requires courts to determine whether the minor is sufficiently mature to make such a decision on her own, or is a victim of child or sexual abuse.
The Florida Office of the State Court Administrator compiles the judicial bypass reports annually. Last year, 587 bypass requests were approved out of the 610 petitions filed, while in 2006, roughly 94 percent of the 557 petitions were approved.