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Election 2004

Parental notice foes try wider stage

The abortion measure looks likely to pass, so opponents are focusing on the presidential race.

Published October 30, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Abortion rights advocates agree: Forcing teenaged girls to tell their parents that they want an abortion would be disastrous.

So why aren't they campaigning against Amendment 1 on Tuesday's ballot?

They say they are sacrificing a battle to win a war.

Amendment 1 would authorize the Legislature to require parental notification for girls under age 18. It also directs lawmakers to include exemptions and judicial review.

Opponents say they fear girls would delay their abortions until after their first trimester, the safest time for the procedure. Others might get kicked out of the house. For some, telling a parent could mean confronting the person who impregnated them.

Amendment supporters say that if teenagers need parental consent to get a tattoo or a body piercing, as they do in Florida, parents should at least have the right to know their daughter is getting an abortion.

Polls show a solid majority of Florida voters support the measure, which the Legislature placed on Tuesday's ballot after the Florida Supreme Court said a parental notice law violates a minor's right to privacy under the state constitution.

Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion rights group, set its sights on the White House and endorsed Democrat John Kerry. It's the group's first presidential endorsement.

The group is spending more than $1-million on TV ads targeting single women in key cities in battleground states: Tampa, Seattle, Portland, Ore.; Des Moines, Iowa; Milwaukee and Madison Wisc.; Portsmouth, N.H.; Minneapolis and the Philadelphia suburbs.

The ads point to the U.S. Supreme Court's delicate balance on abortion rights - five justices say the U.S. Constitution guarantees this right while four justices say it doesn't.

The next president could appoint as many as three new justices, so the stakes have never been higher, Planned Parenthood says.

"If the president who makes these appointments is George Bush, the scales could be tipped against a woman's right to choose for a generation," one ad says.

That leaves Florida reproductive rights groups on their own to fight Amendment 1.

Strapped for cash

With little money available, the opposition has been limited mostly to mobilizing base supporters and fanning outward from there by word of mouth. Planned Parenthood's political arm did recently create a political action committee - Floridians for Healthy Teens and Families - that mailed some fliers.

"There aren't big bucks available to fight this amendment," said Larry Spalding of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. "You do what you can on a nonexistent budget."

Florida's constitutional guarantee of a right to an abortion is stronger than that of the U.S. Constitution, and if voters in the Sunshine State chip away at the rights of minors adults could be next, said Florida NOW's Linda Miklowitz.

"It's a slippery slope. No doubt about it," Miklowitz said.

A long history

The amendment grows out of a legal case involving a Lake County 15-year-old identified only as T.W.

The girl said she was not ready to become a parent or prepared to tell her mother, who was dying of cancer, or her father, who had never discussed sexuality with his daughter.

At the time, a Florida law required parental consent for teenage abortions. The girl went before a judge and became the test case for the law.

Eventually T.W. was allowed to have an abortion. A Florida Supreme Court decision overturned the parental consent law and guaranteed Floridians' right to privacy - and to an abortion.

Abortion foes have fought ever since to get around the ruling and another that overturned a less restrictive parental notice law.

Tuesday's vote is the latest step in a legal and political battle spanning 15 years.

The proposed amendment directs the Legislature to create an exemption but offers no specifics. Lawmakers could, for example, exempt victims of incest but not rape, or exempt minors whose lives could be endangered by the pregnancy but not those whose health could be at stake.

The measure also directs lawmakers to create a judicial bypass so the girls who meet the criteria for an exemption would have to get the approval of a judge. Amendment opponents say that is unreasonable.

"I think it's very hard for a young woman to make the decision to go to court," said Jerri Blair, T.W.'s attorney.

The amendment also leaves it up to lawmakers to decide whether doctors or the girls are responsible for telling their parents and what the penalty is if they don't.

Rep. Sandra Murman, a Tampa Republican and one of the chief architects of Amendment 1, says it will strengthen families by ensuring parental rights.

"This is a common sense thing to do. At least with parental notification, they'll have a mature person there helping make the decision," Murman said.

Studies show parental involvement laws can reduce the number of teenage abortions as girls realize the consequences of their actions, Murman said,

Amendment opponents say that's only part of the story. They say studies show first-trimester abortions do tend to go down in states with parental involvement laws. But they say second-trimester abortions - which carry more health risks - go up because girls wait longer to take action or they are stymied by the legal system. Out-of-state abortions also increase, they say.

They say they hope the national ads will have an effect on Amendment 1.

"If we turn out women, we turn out women who care about women's health issues," said Stephanie Grutman, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

"It's easier to motivate at the top of the ticket than with an amendment."

[Last modified October 30, 2004, 01:56:24]

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