Teenage girl not mature enough to have an abortion, Florida court rules

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A Florida appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling denying a 16-year-old girl an abortion, fearing she lacked the maturity to make the decision, despite her statements that she “isn’t not ready to have a baby.

The teenager, described in court documents as ‘nearly seventeen years old and parentless’ and identified only as Jane Doe 22-B, had submitted a handwritten petition asking for a waiver of the parent notification and consent requirements of the state. Below Florida lawan abortion generally cannot be performed on a minor without the consent of a parent or guardian.

In her petition, according to the appeal court, the teenager wrote that she is still in school and has no job, and that “the father is unable to help her”. Court records say she was 10 weeks pregnant at the time she sought court permission to terminate her pregnancy.

Jane Doe 22-B lives with one parent and has a designated guardian.

She is pursuing a GED through a program that supports young women who have experienced trauma. She suffered a “new trauma”, according to the judgment of the court of appeal, after the death of a friend. She decided to have an abortion soon after.

Escambia County Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz denied the motion in what 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Scott Makar said appears to be “a very close appeal.” The appeals court upheld Frydrychowicz’s decision, with a majority of the three justices agreeing that the lower court’s order and findings “are not unclear or lacking” in a way that would require reconsideration.

The decision was condemned by Florida lawmakers who support abortion access. State Representative Anna Eskamani (D) wrote on Twitter that there is “a lot of cruelty in Florida’s anti-abortion policies.”

“Instead of trusting him and listening to him,” she wrote of the 16-year-old, “the state is forcing her to give birth.”

Florida legal experts said it was difficult to grasp the full context of the case because trial court details are sealed, although they questioned why the girl was not named lawyer and why she had checked a box on her request saying that she had not asked for one. .

Thirty-five states have court bypass laws, which allow minors to ask the court to grant them permission to have an abortion where they would otherwise need the approval of a parent or guardian. Florida has among the highest standards, according to Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, who previously taught reproductive health care history, politics and law in Florida. State lawmakers expanded Florida’s Parent Involvement Act in 2020, requiring teens to not only notify a parent, but also obtain consent.

“Trying to glean what the trial judge was doing is difficult,” Ziegler said. “But this is a person who we know has suffered recent trauma and is not an expert in navigating the justice system. This seems to be held against her, or signaled that she is “not mature”. ”

In a puzzling detail of the case, the teenager said in her petition that her guardian “is okay with what [she] wants to do. If the guardian stands by his decision, Ziegler said, it’s unclear why the case went through bypass proceedings in the first place.

“It’s also somewhat striking because denials aren’t that common,” Ziegler said.

How hard is it to get a court-approved abortion? For a teenager, it came down to GPA.

The trial court judge’s decision raised other questions.

According to retired Miami-Dade County Child Welfare Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, determining a petitioner’s maturity is ultimately up to the judge’s discretion, though they generally follow a plan.

Cohen, who has heard court circumvention cases during her time on the bench, said she would ask the petitioners if they had spoken to trusted adults about their situation, whether they were in school or working, who they lived with, whether they understood the basics of the abortion procedure, and why they felt it was not right for them to continue with the pregnancy.

Judges, Cohen said, also consider “maturity, or”: Is a minor mature, or in a situation where obtaining consent from a parent or guardian would be unsafe or disadvantageous, such as a case in which the minor was mistreated by his guardian?

“The dissent seemed to indicate very clearly that she had been questioned extensively and appeared to be mature, so that should be the end of it,” Cohen said. “Once you make those decisions, you pretty much have to give [the bypass].”

Cohen also noted that in cases where a parent or guardian consents, a signed and notarized waiver must be sent to the abortion provider within 30 days of the procedure — and such a form does not appear to be attached to the waiver. girl asks.

“It is not enough to simply state that the guardian has no objection. That’s probably why the clinic sent her for a legal bypass,” Cohen said. A guardian ad litem (GAL) who is appointed by the court to represent a minor cannot give that consent, only legal guardians or parents, she said.

Makar, of the appeals court, partly agreed with Justices Harvey Jay and Rachel Nordby in their decision, but wrote that the case should be sent back to the lower court for possible reassessment. His partially dissenting opinion offers a rare window into the case.

He writes that Frydrychowicz “showed concern for the minor’s plight throughout the hearing; she asked the minor difficult questions about sensitive personal matters with compassion. The hearing took place in the judge’s chambers, in the presence of the adolescent’s social worker and an ad litem guardian.

Makar said based on a transcript, the teen was “knowledgeable about relevant considerations for terminating her pregnancy” and had gone through a brochure and Googled more information about her options and potential consequences.

“The trial court noted that the minor ‘acknowledges that she is not ready to take on the emotional, physical or financial responsibility of raising a child’ and ‘has valid concerns about her ability to raise a child. “”, he continued.

In denying the motion, Makar wrote, Frydrychowicz left open the possibility of further litigation by saying the girl might be able to “adequately articulate” her claim later and the court might reassess its decision. The key factor seemed to be Frydrychowicz’s initial concern that the teenager’s assessment of the benefits and consequences of her decision was “weak”.

“Reading between the lines, it appears the trial court wanted to give the minor, who was under additional stress due to the death of a friend, additional time to express a better understanding of the consequences of a hiatus. pregnancy,” Makar wrote. “It makes sense given that the minor, at least at one point, said she was open to having a child, but then changed her mind after considering her inability to care for a child in his current situation in life.”

For reasons of time, he said he would have sent the case back to the court in Frydrychowicz for reassessment.

Like Ziegler, Makar also questioned why the case had been bypassed if the teenager’s guardian was, as the teenager wrote in her petition, supportive of her decision. He wrote: “If the minor’s guardian consents to the termination of the minor’s pregnancy, all that is required is a written waiver from the guardian. The teenager also “inexplicably checked the box that she did not seek a lawyer”, despite her right to have one appointed at no cost, Makar wrote.

Cohen, a retired child protection judge, said a petitioner’s uncertainty about having an abortion is not a relevant criterion.

“There’s not a motive that says, ‘Well, if she hesitates, don’t give it away. The ground is to grant it if she’s mature enough to make the decision,” Cohen said. “Just because you’re granting the waiver doesn’t mean she has to get it. [an abortion]. Grant it, and if she changes her mind, she changes her mind.

With Florida’s relatively short 15-week abortion window (states with fewer restrictions tend to allow abortion until 22 or 24 weeks pregnant), deny the girl’s petition but leave the door open to possibly revise it and try again can ultimately delay it long enough to where it would be outside the state’s legal window. Any delay, Cohen notes, narrows a petitioner’s options. At 10 weeks, for example, the girl might benefit from a medical abortion, which is less expensive and less invasive than a surgical abortion, which she might need if she had to wait longer.

“It’s very traumatic to be refused and to have to come back. And it’s very expensive,” Cohen said. “Something she can afford today, she may not be able to afford tomorrow.”

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