Minors' Privacy Rights Set Back In Florida

A Florida appeals court overruled a state court judge who said parental consent laws can't make a sharing Norman Rockwell family. Women's groups deplored the ruling, saying the law has the potential to cause harm to desperate teens.

Judge Terry Lewis

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WOMENSENEWS)-Florida may soon join 32 other states that are enforcing parental notification or consent laws when minors seek abortions, following a decision last week from an appellate court.

The three-judge First District Court of Appeals on Feb. 9 overturned an earlier ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that a 1999 parental notification law was unconstitutional because it violated the teens right to privacy.

Attorneys from the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, representing a group of abortion providers and women's rights groups, vowed to appeal immediately. The group could ask the entire 15-member appellate court to hear it or take it to the Florida Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the enforcement of the law is on hold.

Under this law, parents of pregnant teens seeking an abortion would not have to be notified if a medical emergency exists requiring the abortion, if parents have previously waived the need for a notice or if the teen is or has been married. The law allows teens to go to court to seek a waiver from the requirement. If the court finds that a girl is mature enough to make the decision on her own, she may do so.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the President's brother, praised the appeals court for upholding the Parental Notification Act, calling its ruling a “well-reasoned opinion.”

“Currently parental permission is required before a school can give a young person aspirin,” Governor Bush said. “Therefore, it seems only reasonable that a parent be informed when their child is undergoing a major surgical procedure.”

Bibi Anderson, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, said she thought the ruling was unfortunate and criticized the law for jeopardizing the ability of young women to receive confidential medical care and needless risk to their health.

“A large number of teens do involve their parents,” Anderson said, adding that those who don't often have good reason. These teens face the potential of physical or emotional abuse if their parents discover they are pregnant, she said, or their families may ostracize them. Other teens choose to travel great distances to obtain abortions, putting themselves at risk, or try to self-induce abortions, which is also dangerous.

Still others may seek to use the court procedure outlined in the law to obtain judicial permission, Anderson added, causing so much time to elapse that the abortion occurs later in the pregnancy or that the pregnancy becomes so advanced that an abortion is no longer an alternative. Moreover, the privacy of teens seeking judicial review often is compromised-they may be recognized while at the courthouse by members of their community and must explain frequent absences from school, work or home.

Texas Group Helps Girls Navigate Parental Involvement Laws

In Texas, President Bush's home state, reproductive rights advocates last month created Janes Due Process to help minors negotiate the state's parental involvement laws. It is the first such state group in the nation. This Florida setback for reproductive rights for minors follows a mixed year for reproductive rights nationwide. NARAL, the abortion rights organization, recently reported state legislatures in 2000 introduced 257 anti-choice bills, compared with 439 in 1999. They enacted 43, compared to 70 the previous year.

State legislatures enacted 27 pro-choice measures and in Colorado voters decisively defeated a ballot initiative that would have imposed a waiting period and required women seeking abortions to read anti-choice materials, again according to NARAL.

At the same time, pro-choice forces won victories in the U.S. Supreme Court which declared unconstitutional a Nebraska ban on so-called “partial birth abortions.” The Food and Drug Administration approved the long-delayed use of RU 486 for medical abortions.

Laws Can't Make A Happy Norman Rockwell Family, Judge Says

In his original ruling, Judge Lewis had noted that it would be great if every teen came from a harmonious “Norman Rockwell family,” with strong parent-child communications. Because reality doesn't reflect the ideal, he said, not all teens feel comfortable talking to their parents about their pregnancy.

And in the case of incest-more common than acknowledged, the judge said, some teens might be in danger if their parents knew about a pending abortion.

The appellate court disagreed with Lewis that the law is unconstitutional, saying there is a compelling state interest in facilitating parents' ability to care for their underage children.

“While we do not question the premise that ‘freedom of choice concerning abortion extends to minors,' we conclude that the act's requirement that a reasonable effort to inform at least one parent or legal guardian . . . does not render the act unconstitutional on its face,” Judge Robert T. Benton wrote in the appellate court's opinion.

At this time, 22 states have passed laws requiring parental consent for a minor's abortion and 20 have passed laws requiring parental notification of her decision. Of those, 10 are not being enforced because of court challenges.

“In general, parental notice laws are bad public policy, because there is no law you can write that can force teen-age girls to talk to their parents,” said Linda Miklowitz, president of the Tallahassee chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Some Courts Strike Down Parental Consent Laws As Unconstitutional

In many cases, these laws have been defeated in the courts, requiring an enormous expenditure of time, energy and funds from women's rights attorneys.

The California legislature passed a parental consent law in 1988 and the state Supreme Court ruled in August 1997 that the statute violated minors' right to privacy under the state constitution. The 1988 law required parental consent, rather than notification, and had no exception for parental rape or incest.

The California court ruled 4-3 that there was no evidence the law would serve its stated goals of promoting family harmony and minors' welfare-and there was considerable evidence that it would harm minors who feared consulting their parents.

Florida's original parental notification law also faced stiff legal challenges and was declared unconstitutional more than a decade ago. The state Supreme Court ruled that teens had a right to privacy when seeking sexual and reproductive health care. The newest law appears to be an attempt to cut out an abortion exception.

Idaho's parental consent law was to go into effect July 1, 2000. It was immediately challenged, however, and court proceedings are still pending. Oregon's Republican-dominated legislature passed a parental notification law in 1999 but the Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed it.

Meanwhile, an Illinois Democrat, state Rep. Dan Reitz, has sponsored two parental notification bills this session. One would create parental notification law and a second would require Illinois to honor a neighboring state's notification law if the minor tried to travel to Illinois for an abortion.

The Virginia Supreme Court in 1999 let stand that state's 1997 parental notification law. That action has not been appealed by reproductive rights groups.

Journalist Nancy Cook Lauer covers state government in Tallahassee, Fla.

For more information, visit:

Center for Reproductive Law and Policy: https://www.crlp.org

NARAL: https://www.naral.org

Women's Enews article about Janes Due Process helping minors in Texas: https://ihtbd.com/article.cfm?aid=412&context=archive

WEnews Brief

Rep. Morella Introduces Federal Child Care Bill

(WOMENSENEWS)-Rep. Connie Morella (D.-Md.) has introduced the Child Care Affordability For Federal Employees Act, authorizing federal agencies to use their funds for salaries and expenses to help low-income employees pay for child care.

“The lack of safe, affordable day care is not a new problem, but its consequences are becoming more dire,” Morella said in a statement on introducing the bill on Monday. “Balancing work and family has become increasingly difficult. New and innovative solutions, like this bill are needed.

“This legislation will give federal agencies the ability to help provide affordable, quality child care for their low-income employees.”

Morella's federal employee child care legislation did not pass in the last Congress, although for the past two years her provision has been included in the annual Treasury, Postal Service and General Government appropriations bills.

Currently, each individual agency determines whether to use available funds to help provide child care for its low-income workers, and the agency itself defines “low income.”

The bill introduced this week, H.R. 555, would make this authority permanent.

“As the nation's largest employer, the federal government will serve as a role model for other employers throughout the nation,” Morella said. About one-quarter of all federal workers have children under age 6 needing care at some time during the work day, she said. In some federal child care facilities, families are charged as much as $10,000 a year per child, she added.

Morella's office said her child care funding authorization in the Postal Service, Treasury and other agencies has led to successful child care arrangements, documented in a forthcoming report by the Office of Personnel Management.