Judges grant most waivers to Florida's parental notification requirement

For at least one legislator, that means the laws not working.


Lynn Harris
January 19, 2006 1:51AM (UTC)

The Orlando Sentinel reports that in the six months since Florida's parental notification law went into effect, at least 120 girls have sought a judicial bypass -- that is, permission from a judge to not tell their parents about a planned abortion. Apparently, permission was granted in all but 11 cases, and of those, eight were successfully appealed.

Surely, then, these judges are doing something wrong.

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That's the opinion, at least, of state Rep. John Stargel (R-Lakeland), who argues that the guidelines for judges are too vague.

Under the law, judges must rule on bypass petitions within 48 hours of filing. Bypasses must be granted if the girl proves at least one of three conditions: She is mature enough to make the decision on her own (N.B.: immature girls may become mothers with impunity); a parent or guardian has abused her; or telling a parent is simply "not in her best interest."

Stargel says "best interest" isn't good enough. "It leaves it wide open for the judge to make the determination that any negative consequence to the minor eliminates the parents' right to know under the Florida Constitution," Stargel said. He is drafting legislation that would limit the "best interest" standard to prevent only "personal harm" -- and that could give judges up to seven days to make their decision.

Nice. That's seven more days that the teen carries the pregnancy -- raising various health issues, and seven more days that she, arguably, has to keep it hidden from a threatening parent.

Abortion-rights advocates have basically double-dog-dared Stargel to tinker with the law, which was "carefully crafted" to meet Supreme Court guidelines for constitutionality. "They can amend the law and have it struck down again and that would be great," said Randall Marshall, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is training lawyers to help girls navigate the system.

Do the "success" rates of the bypass mean the law is working? "If the intent was to reduce sexual activity, pregnancy or abortions, it's not working," Miami lawyer Christi Hayes told the Sentinel. "If the intent was to impose a punitive obstacle in the path of frightened girls who cannot go to their parents, then yes, it's working."

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Attorney and former state legislator Cindy Lerner notes that many of the teens affected by the law have not heard word one from their parents about sex and contraception. Don't change the law, she said: If anything, provide solid science-based sex education. "Some of these girls are under the impression that if they stand up during sex they won't get pregnant," Lerner told the Sentinel. "To me, making the law tougher is backwards thinking. The problem is parents abdicating their responsibilities."

That, and the teaching only of "abstinence."

No word on what happened to the three girls whose requests were denied.


Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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