Florida Supreme Court Upholds Young Women's Constitutional Right to Abortion

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Parental Notification Law Struck Down
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Tallahassee, FL

Today, in a 5-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a law requiring physicians to notify a parent or legal guardian before performing an abortion on a young woman. The court found the law unconstitutional because it violates young women’s right to choose abortion without furthering any compelling state interest. In doing so, it stated "[O]ur decision today in no way interferes with a parent’s right to participate in the decisionmaking process or a minor’s right to consult with her parents. Just the opposite. Under our decision, parent and minor are free to do as they wish in this regard, without government interference."

"Today’s landmark decision by the Florida Supreme Court is a great victory not only for the young women of this state, but all of its citizens who care about their right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health and lives," said Bebe Anderson, a staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel on the case. "In striking down Florida’s forced parental involvement law, the Court recognized the harms that such laws impose on young women, including possible physical and emotional abuse, lack of access to confidential medical care, forced teen motherhood and delay in obtaining medical care."

"We are elated that the Florida Supreme Court has made clear in no uncertain terms that young women's reproductive rights will be vigorously protected in this state," added Anderson.

The extensive evidence in this case showed that, even without state-mandated parental notification, most minors, especially younger minors, tell at least one parent of the planned abortion. Of those minors who don’t involve a parent, many voluntarily involve another adult, such as a grandparent or older sibling. Parental notification and consent laws do not further family communications and only hurt minors. In families where abusive relationships or other problems prevent good communication between parents and their teenage daughters, state-mandated discussions can exacerbate existing problems. For battered teenagers and incest survivors in particular, mandatory parental involvement laws increase the risks in an already dangerous situation.

Over 10 years ago, Florida’s Supreme Court found a parental consent law unconstitutional, today’s decision reaffirmed that earlier ruling and found that parental notification laws contain similar constitutional flaws. Laws that restrict minors’ access to abortion, whether by parental consent or notice, harm young women’s health and violate their constitutional rights.

In February 2001, the First District Court of Appeal found the state law requiring parental notification valid under the Florida Constitution, ignoring strong evidence presented at the trial court level attesting to the harmful impact the law would have on minors. Circuit Court Judge Terry P. Lewis ruled that the law was unconstitutional in May 2000, finding that it did not serve a compelling state interest and that it violated the explicit privacy clause in Florida’s constitution, which allows young women the same right to privacy as adult women. The parental notice law has never gone into effect.

Amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Society for Adolescent Medicine, and the Women's Law Project.

Plaintiffs in North Florida Women’s Health & Counseling Services, Inc., et al. v. State of Florida, et al. (Case No: SC01-843) include 9 abortion providers and clinics, as well as women’s rights groups from across Florida. They are represented by Bebe Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Richard E. Johnson of Tallahassee, and Dara Klassel of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.