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Some fear effect of abortion notification law

Parental notice now required for young girls may frighten some into "crazy" action, one clinic's director says.

Published July 1, 2005

Most of the patients Yinessa Ortega has seen are too old to be affected by the state's new law requiring that clinics notify parents of girls under 18 before they get an abortion.

And most of the patients young enough to fall under the law arrive at the clinic with their parents.

But the ones who don't? They're scared, said Ortega, director of the St. Petersburg Women's Health Center.

"A lot of them will say, "My mom will kill me,' or "I'm going to get kicked out,' or things like that," she said. "A lot of these kids are probably going to be afraid, and trying something crazy."

Legal and political battles have waged for years over whether the state should have a law requiring clinics to notify parents. But this time, as the clock ticked by without a judge granting a last-minute delay, the proposal became reality Thursday, after the state issued legal rules on how to seek a waiver of the law.

The law is a step forward for Florida girls and their families, said Chris Kise, the state solicitor general.

"This is a recognition of parents in the lives and safety of their children," Kise said. "A parent or guardian should be made aware that their child is going to undergo any medical procedure. Children in the public school system can't get an aspirin without parental notice and approval."

The law requires doctors to notify a parent before performing abortions on girls 17 or younger, except in medical emergencies. It applies to girls who aren't married and have no other children. Girls can get a judge to waive the rule in certain circumstances.

A similar bill passed in 1999, but courts blocked it, saying it violated state privacy rights. Last fall, voters passed a constitutional amendment that requiring parental notice would not violate the state Constitution's privacy provisions.

Despite the long legal fight, most abortions won't be affected. Fewer than 1 percent of women getting abortions are younger than 15, while 19 percent are ages 15 to 19, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group.

Abortion rights advocates have challenged the law, but said this week that Florida clinics are ready to advise their younger patients of the rule.

"We will continue to do what we've always done, which is encourage (them to tell) their parents, to talk about an unintended pregnancy," said Stephanie Grutman, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

The notification requirement could delay a girl's abortion up to four days, Grutman said.

Doctors must notify a parent in person or by phone 48 hours before the abortion, or 72 hours before the procedure by certified mail if the parent can't be found. In practice, Grutman said, the rule may lead to longer delays.

The delay sounds small, Grutman said, but could mean the girl can no longer get a first-trimester abortion. That would make the procedure more expensive and might mean the girl would have to travel, because fewer doctors perform second-trimester abortions.

But Kise said the law requires the notice and any appeals to move swiftly, and allows doctors to perform an abortion if a girl's health is at risk.

Grutman stressed that under the rules, a girl can come to a clinic for advice without parents being told, and that clinics will help girls who need it with the waiver process. Still, like Ortega, she said she worries that some girls may seek unsafe abortions.

"We do believe young women who are concerned will take drastic action," she said. "We're doing everything in our power to make sure young women know they have a safe place to go."

Gov. Jeb Bush supports the law and has said it "ensures the safety of our children."

Judges can waive the notice rule based on the girl's maturity, if telling a parent is not in her best interest, or if she has been abused by a parent or guardian.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 01:23:13]

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