NORTH FLA. WOMEN'S HEALTH SERVICES v. State

Citation866 So.2d 612
Decision Date10 July 2003
Docket NumberNo. SC01-843.,SC01-843.
PartiesNORTH FLORIDA WOMEN'S HEALTH AND COUNSELING SERVICES, INC., et al., Petitioners, v. STATE of Florida, et al., Respondents.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Richard E. Johnson, Tallahassee, FL; Bebe J. Anderson, Julie Rikelman, and Jody Ratner, The Center for Reproductive Law & Policy, New York, NY; and Dara Klassel, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., New York, NY, for Petitioners.

Charles J. Crist, Jr., Attorney General, and John J. Rimes, III, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Respondents.

Carol J. Banta and Heath A. Jones of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, Washington, DC, for Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health and Society For Adolescent Medicine, Amici Curiae.

Randall C. Marshall, Miami, Florida; and Julie Sternberg and Louise Melling, New York, NY, for The American Civil Liberties Union, The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and The Women's Law Project, Amicus Curiae. Stephen C. Emmanuel and John Beranek of Ausley & McMullen, Tallahassee, FL; and Thomas A. Horkan, Jr. and Victoria H. Erquiaga, Tallahassee, FL, for The Florida Catholic Conference, Amicus Curiae.

Mathew D. Staver and Erik W. Stanley, Liberty Counsel, Longwood, FL; and Teresa Stanton Collett, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law, Houston, TX, for The Christian Medical Association, Catholic Medical Association and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians/Gynecologists, Amicus Curiae.

SHAW, Senior Justice.

Section 390.01115, Florida Statutes (1999), is entitled the Parental Notice of Abortion Act (the "Parental Notice Act," or the "Act"). Because of concerns regarding the Act's constitutionality, both the trial and district courts below barred its implementation. The Act never has been enforced. We have for review State v. North Florida Women's Health & Counseling Services, 852 So.2d 254 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001), wherein the district court declared the Act valid. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const. For reasons explained below, we quash North Florida and approve the trial court's decision holding the Act unconstitutional under our controlling precedent in In re T.W., 551 So.2d 1186 (Fla.1989).

Under the Parental Notice Act, prior to undergoing an abortion, a minor must notify a parent of her decision or, alternatively, must convince a court that she is sufficiently mature to make the decision herself, or that, if she is immature, the abortion nevertheless is in her best interests. The trial court analyzed the Act under T.W. and concluded that, in light of the Legislature's continued disparate treatment of minors in other statutes governing comparable procedures and practices, the Act fails to further a compelling State interest. Because the trial court properly applied the controlling law as set forth in T.W. and because its findings are supported by competent substantial evidence, we sustain its ruling.

As was the case in Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, 165 N.J. 609, 762 A.2d 620 (2000), wherein the New Jersey Supreme Court struck a similar parental notice statute, our decision today in no way interferes with a parent's right to participate in the decisionmaking process or a minor's right to consult with her parents.1 Just the opposite. Under our decision, parent and minor are free to do as they wish in this regard, without government interference.

I
A

When the Parental Notice Act became effective on July 1, 1999, several women's clinics, women's rights groups, and physicians ("Women's Services") filed suit in circuit court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to block its enforcement, claiming that the Act violates a minor's constitutional rights under our earlier decision in T.W. The circuit court held a two-and-one-half day evidentiary hearing and on July 27, 1999, issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the Act. The State filed an interlocutory appeal in the First District Court of Appeal (the "First District"), and while that appeal was pending, the circuit court continued with the proceedings on the merits.

The circuit court in December 1999 conducted a five-day bench trial wherein the parties presented numerous exhibits and depositions and the live testimony of various experts. After the trial was completed, the First District relinquished jurisdiction of the State's interlocutory appeal to the circuit court so that court could enter a final order on the merits. The circuit court on May 12, 2000, relied on this Court's holding in T.W. and ruled that (a) the Act imposes a significant restriction on a minor's right of privacy under the Florida Constitution, and (b) the Act fails to further a compelling State interest. The court held the Act unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction barring its enforcement.

The State appealed and the First District on February 9, 2001, reversed, holding that the Act furthers a compelling State interest. Women's Services then filed a motion in district court seeking to stay issuance of the mandate and also a petition for review in this Court based on statutory validity.2 The district court granted the stay, effectively blocking enforcement of the Act, and this Court on October 26, 2001, granted discretionary review. The case was argued before this Court on March 4, 2002. After oral argument, the circuit court, on motion of the parties, supplemented the record in this Court twice: once in March 2002, with fifteen volumes of supplemental record, and once in August 2002, with two lengthy documentary exhibits.

Women's Services contends that T.W. is controlling precedent, that the trial court faithfully applied that decision, and that this Court therefore should approve the trial court's decision. The State,3 on the other hand, contends that this case is not controlled by T.W., or alternatively, that this Court should recede from T.W.

B

As noted above, the trial court conducted a two-and-one-half day evidentiary hearing before issuing a temporary injunction barring enforcement of the Act. The court then conducted a five-day bench trial. The following witnesses testified in person for Women's Services during trial: attorney Jamie Ann Sabino; Judge Gerald C. Martin; Michael Benjamin, M.D.; Stanley K. Henshaw, Ph.D.; Nancy E. Alder, Ph.D.; and Harry Krop, Ph.D.4 In counterpoint, the following witnesses testified in person for the State: Rebecca I. Moorhead, M.D.; Peter Uhlenberg, Ph.D.; David Elkind, Ph.D.; and Charles R. Figley, Ph.D.5

The trial court, in its written order following trial, first acknowledged the Legislature's statements of fact contained in the "whereas" clauses in the preamble to the Act. The court then conducted its own inquiry based on the evidence presented at trial and made its own factual findings, which may be paraphrased as follows:

—As to the medical consequences of abortions, I find from the evidence that abortion is one of the safer surgical procedures.
—The risk of mortality or complications from abortion are very low.
—Certainly, in no qualitative sense, are the risks [of mortality or complications] higher, or more unique for abortions than they are for child birth, or for other surgical procedures for which a minor may now lawfully consent without notifying her parents.
—Most minors, especially older minors, are perfectly capable of following directions for aftercare treatment.
—Some minors have legitimate fears of physical and emotional abuse if their parents are consulted.
—There are some minors who have good reason not to want to have their parents consulted when they see a physician about an abortion.
—The fear of disclosure will motivate some minors to go to great lengths to avoid [disclosure], including delaying their decision to abort, thus increasing the risks, concealing their pregnancy, going to some other state where notice is not required, or seeking an illegal abortion.

The court addressed the Legislature's statements of purpose, which also were contained in the "whereas" clauses, and then framed the key issue facing the court:

The stated purposes for the Act follow logically from the Legislative Findings; e.g. protect minors from their own immaturity, preserve the family unit and parental authority, prevent, detect and prosecute sexual batteries against minors. I can't imagine any serious disagreement over the importance of these interests to our society. The family unit is the cornerstone of civilized society. We depend on parents to protect, guide, and socialize their children, to help to make them law abiding, productive members of the community. We hold parents responsible for their children— as we should—and we should be about the business of helping them, certainly not hindering them, in carrying out this responsibility.
The issue, though, is not whether these interests and goals are worthy and important. They clearly are. The question is whether the challenged Act is a permissible way under our State Constitution to achieve them. For the reasons outlined below I conclude that it is not.

The court reasoned that the Act imposed a direct and significant intrusion on a minor's right of privacy because, as the title of the Act implies, a minor would be required to disclose to others—i.e., to her parents, guardians, and sundry court personnel—one of the most intimate aspects of her private life. The court also reasoned that the Act failed to further a compelling State interest in light of the fact that, in the intervening years since T.W. was decided, virtually nothing had changed in the statutory provisions authorizing less restrictive treatment for other comparable procedures and practices. Accordingly, the court concluded that, under T.W., the Act was unconstitutional.

C

The district court below did not articulate any standard of review governing its analysis of the trial court's decision. The court began its analysis not with a review of the trial court's factual findings and legal ruling, but with...

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