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Lawmakers hear debate on abortion notification

Thursday's hearing in Tampa addressed whether parents should be notified when a minor seeks an abortion.

DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published September 19, 2003

TAMPA - People on both sides of the abortion issue faced off Thursday over the question of whether parents should be notified when their minor child seeks to end a pregnancy.

The three-hour House Judiciary Committee hearing drew passionate stories, both from women who counsel pregnant teenagers and parents who fear they will be robbed of their right to have a say in a major medical decision involving their child.

Lawmakerswant to use the information in drafting a constitutional amendment requiring parental notification before minors can get an abortion.

Shannon Rochek, an 18-year-old University of South Florida student, said not all young women can go to their parents.

"Some people have parents who are abusive and neglectful," she said. "They wouldn't give their daughter the physical care if she needed it."

The speakers also debated the practicality of asking the court to determine if a parent is unfit to make decisions on the child's behalf, some saying it could take too long to reach a decision.

Rochek told the panel that although minors are not of voting age, they have a right to privacy, too.

"Notification in reproductive issues is denial of consent," said Dr. Kevin Miller of Venice. "They don't go to their parents about having sex."

However, Carl Warren, the father of a 17-year-old daughter, shuddered at the thought of his daughter having an abortion without his knowledge.

"I have to sign for her to get a driver's license," Warren said. "If I'm going to be held responsible and accountable for her, I should be allowed to have these parental rights."

Theresa Miller, a mother of three, wondered what society is teaching children if they can make those life-altering choices without their parents.

"They're being taught that lying to your parents and defying authority is not only acceptable, but sanctioned by the state," she said.

The parental notification law was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year.

Among the hundred or so attendees was House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, a U.S. Senate candidate whose opposes abortion.

Byrd said before the hearing that legislators hope to move quickly because opponents will file lawsuits. He wants all legal contests completed by 2004.

Less than half of the 18 committee members attended the hearing. They were joined by some of Hillsborough County's delegation, including Reps. Sandra Murman and Kevin Ambler, both of Tampa.

The committee will hold similar hearings in Orlando and Miami sometime in the next two months.

- Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 226-3403.

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