A forced parental involvement law that passed the Florida legislature in February highlights the abortion care roadblocks confronting undocumented teenagers and families.
Florida has a parental notification law, but starting in July, minors who wish to obtain an abortion in the state will be required to produce written permission from a parent who is also required to provide government-issued identification. The ID component can be a tough ask for a lot of people. In a state that bars immigrants without documentation from obtaining a driver’s license or state ID, it can also be an impossibility. (In Florida, undocumented people make up 3.8 percent of the population.)
As it stands, many immigrant teens experience difficulties in accessing reproductive health care. Charo Valero, the Florida state policy director at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said their organization has heard from mixed immigration status families whose children waited months to share the news of a pregnancy for fear that doing so could lead to the deportation of an undocumented parent. Valero predicts the new law will exacerbate the situation.
“If young Latinas/xs have to ask an undocumented parent to sign legal paperwork to access abortion services, they may delay care or forgo care altogether to avoid family separation,” she said in an email.
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Of course, teens whose parents have been detained or deported, or those who have arrived in the country unaccompanied, may not even have an adult to turn to. But the new bill also burdens youth whose parents would grant them permission for an abortion but have no legal way to do so. To address this issue, Florida Rep. Cindy Polo (D-Miramar) introduced an amendment that would have removed the parental ID requirement. It failed to pass.
There is noticeable inconsistency in the treatment of teens in the United States. In some situations, adolescents are held to adult standards. Yet in others, they are viewed as children in need of protection. The latter is often used to bolster arguments for parental involvement in abortion law—36 states currently mandate that parents either be notified of a minor’s abortion, or they require their consent for one.
For teens, who must also navigate the same profusion of abortion laws as adults, parental involvement mandates are a distinct burden. This is particularly true for youth who, in addition to being disenfranchised by their age, are also marginalized by their identities, family structure, socio-economic position, or by their immigration status.
Sponsors of the ID requirement bill contend that the measure is needed to prevent teens from presenting fraudulent permission forms. Supporters of forced parental involvement laws argue the legislation is necessary to ensure parents are involved in their children’s medical care. As state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), one of the sponsors of Florida’s SB 404, said, “These young women need their parents’ guidance, and parents have a fundamental right to provide that guidance.”
However, this argument ignores the fact that even without legal mandates, most minors will include parents in their decision to have an abortion. And those who don’t have a good reason not to. While forced parental involvement laws have not been found to increase parent-teen communication around sexuality or abortion, they have been found to prevent young people from accessing abortion and to increase health and safety risks for youth.
For all of these reasons and more, numerous organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association, oppose parental involvement laws.
When concerns about the impact of such laws on teens are raised, supporters often point to judicial bypass, a process that allows judges to overrule parental involvement requirements if they determine that a minor is capable of deciding to have an abortion independently. A judicial bypass is written into the Florida law, and similar workarounds are found in many other states’ forced parental involvement laws, as well. But even when such a provision exists, obtaining one isn’t an easy process.
“There are a lot of barriers,” Laura Goodhue, the executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said. “You have to know that a bypass is available to you. Then, if young people do figure it out, if they do get legal help, and get in front of a judge, according to statute, that judge then has to determine whether that young person is mature enough to make a decision about terminating a pregnancy.”
The decision doesn’t always come out in the teen’s favor, and across the country, judges have decided that teens were too immature to have an abortion but mature enough to give birth.
And these cases only occur in situations where teens have actually managed to appear before a judge—something that is incredibly difficult to access for young people in most states. In Florida, for example, the legal organization If/When/How found that the majority of court county clerks (who are the first point of contact for a teen setting up a court appearance) were not equipped to help teens navigate the process.
Appearing in court is a daunting task for most. The risk of deportation makes it even more intimidating for undocumented minors or those with undocumented family members to petition for judicial bypass.
It’s important to note that forced parental involvement laws are not a standard requirement for other medical procedures, and parental ID requirements are specific to abortion. “When I take my children for their flu shots or for another medical procedure, I don’t have to show a government-issued ID,” Goodhue said.
Even for reproductive health care, in many states, minors can consent to care without parental involvement, and if they access that care for STIs, pre- and post-natal services, or contraception at a clinic that receives Title X funding, they have the right to do so without parental involvement in all 50 states. Since the passage of Title X preceded the legalization of abortion with Roe v. Wade, the procedure is not covered by this law, and as a result, it can be uniquely legislated.
Some minors who want to circumvent parental involvement may travel out of state to receive abortion care, but the option may not be available to all—including families who fear deportation. For undocumented families in Florida, when the law goes into effect, obtaining a safe, legal abortion may become impossible.
The majority of people in the United States believe abortion should remain legal, yet it faces challenges and regulations not seen in any other area of health care. Florida’s new law is a reminder that abortion restrictions do the most damage to those who are the most disadvantaged.