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Parental notice amendment draws 64.7% approval margin in Fla.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (BP)–Florida took one step toward putting parental involvement in minor abortions into state law Nov. 2 with a resounding victory for a constitutional amendment to permit the legislature to enact a requirement for parents to be notified before minors have abortions.

Now, pro-lifers must focus on the legislature in early 2005 to ensure that good legislation is enacted, Florida Baptist lobbyist Bill Bunkley noted.

With 98.8 percent of votes counted Wednesday morning, Florida voters approved Amendment 1, “Parental Notification of a Minor’s Termination of Pregnancy,” by a wide margin –- 64.7 to 35.3 percent. Adoption of the amendment may reverse 16 years of failure in the legislature during which time a parental consent bill was vetoed by former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and two parental notice bills were declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.

Amendment 1 was placed on the ballot by action of the Florida legislature April 30 in response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling in July 2003 that the 1999 Parental Notice Act violated the privacy right in the state’s constitution. During the 2004 legislative session, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R.-Plant City, sponsored a broader constitutional amendment which would have protected parental rights beyond abortion, but leaders of the Senate opposed the measure. On the last day of the session, legislators agreed to a compromise, HJR 1, which was co-sponsored by Byrd and Rep. Sandra Murman, R.-Tampa.

The parental notice amendment was strongly supported by pro-life and pro-family organizations — including the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Florida Right to Life, Florida Catholic Conference and Christian Coalition.

The amendment was opposed by pro-abortion and other liberal organizations, including Florida’s affiliates of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Florida American Civil Liberties Union. The measure also drew editorial opposition by leading daily newspapers in the state, while the Florida Baptist Witness editorialized in favor of Amendment 1.

“Florida voters still believe parents have the basic right to be informed and involved in the medical decisions of their minor children, including abortions,” Bunkley said.

Pointing to a near-fatal botched abortion of a 15-year-old in Tampa in late October, Bunkley told the Witness, “Hopefully, in the future parents like hers will be informed before the abortion under the new notification procedure.”

Bunkley –- who was at the center of efforts in Tallahassee to get the amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot -– urged Florida Baptists to stay connected with their legislators in the coming months as the legislature moves to enact the parental notification measure.

Expressing concern that pro-abortion activists will seek to water down the bill with “wide-ranging exceptions,” Bunkley said citizens should contact their legislators “with calls, e-mails and faxes that will assist advocates in maintaining the original intent of the amendment.”

Kathleen Hiers, director of sanctity of human life for Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, was thrilled with the lopsided victory for the amendment.

“Praise God for almost 5 million Florida voters who understand that parents have the responsibility to care for their children during difficult situations like unplanned pregnancy. I am thankful for the protection this will provide for young women facing the life-changing decisions related to parenting, adoption placement or abortion,” she told the Witness.

Hiers testified in favor of parental notification at a Sept. 2003 field hearing of the Florida House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Before voters had their say on Amendment 1, the Florida Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit brought by the Florida ACLU seeking removal of the measure from the Nov. 2 ballot, claiming the initiative would mislead voters and harm teenage girls. In September, the court ruled that the amendment could stay on the ballot, but ordered the full text of the amendment be used in place of the so-called “ballot summary.” In response, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood vowed to defeat the amendment at the polls.

Still, pro-abortion forces did not exert much effort to oppose adoption of the measure, choosing instead to focus their efforts in support Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. President George W. Bush easily beat Kerry in Florida by nearly 370,000 votes.
James A. Smith Sr. is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com.

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  • James A. Smith Sr.