Teen not mature enough to have an abortion, Florida court rules

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A Florida court of appeals Monday upheld a ruling that denied a 16-year-old an abortion over concerns she did not have the maturity to make the decision, despite her statements that she is “not ready to have a baby.”

The teen, described in court documents as “nearly seventeen years old and without parents” and identified only as Jane Doe 22-B, had filed a handwritten petition to waive the state’s parental notice and consent requirements. Under Florida law, an abortion generally cannot be performed on a minor without the consent of a parent or guardian.

In her petition, according to the appeals court, the teen wrote that she is still in school and has no job, and that “the father cannot help her”. Court records show that she was 10 weeks pregnant at the time she sought court permission to terminate her pregnancy.

Jane Doe 22-B lives with a relative and has an appointed guardian.

She follows a GED through a program that supports young women who have experienced trauma. According to the appeals court ruling, she suffered “renewed trauma” after the death of a friend. She decided to have an abortion soon after.

Escambia County Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz denied the petition in what 1st District Court of Appeal judge Scott Makar said appeared to be “a very close call”. The appeals court upheld Frydrychowicz’s ruling, with a majority of the three-member panel agreeing that the lower court’s order and findings are “neither unclear nor lacking” in a way that would require reconsideration.

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

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

Florida legal experts said it’s difficult to understand the full context of the case because court details have been sealed, though they questioned why the girl hadn’t been appointed a lawyer and why she checked a box in her petition that she wasn’t there. had not asked for .

Thirty-five states have judicial bypass laws, allowing minors to ask the court to give them permission to have an abortion where they would otherwise need the approval of a parent or guardian. Florida has one of the stricter standards, according to Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who used to lecture in Florida on the history, politics and law of reproductive health care. State legislators expanded Florida’s parent involvement law in 2020, requiring teens to not only notify a parent, but also get their consent.

“Trying to figure out what the investigating judge was doing is difficult,” Ziegler said. “But this is a person who we know has experienced recent trauma and is not an expert at navigating the justice system. That seems to be used against her, or a sign that she’s “not mature.” ”

In a puzzling detail from the case, the teen said in her petition that her guardian is “allowing whatever” [she] want to do.” If the guardian supports her decision, Ziegler said, it’s unclear why the case went into bypass 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 judge’s ruling raised other questions.

Determining a petitioner’s maturity is ultimately at the discretion of the judge, although they usually follow a pattern, according to Jeri Beth Cohen, a retired Miami-Dade County child welfare judge.

Cohen, who heard lawsuits during her term, said she would ask petitioners whether they had spoken to trusted adults about their situation, whether they attended school or worked, who they lived with, whether they understood the basics of the abortion procedure and why they felt that it was not good for them to continue with their pregnancy.

Judges, Cohen said, also consider “maturity, or”: is a minor an adult, or are they in a situation where getting a parent’s or guardian’s consent would be dangerous or disadvantageous, such as a case where the minor was abused by their caregiver ?

“The dissent seemed to make it very clear that she was interrogated at length and appeared to be an adult, so that should be the end of it,” Cohen said. “Once you’ve made these decisions, you kind of have to give in [the bypass].”

Cohen also noted that in cases where there is a parent or guardian who consents, a signed and notarized waiver must be sent to the abortion provider within 30 days of the procedure — and that no such form should accompany the petition. girl seems to be joined.

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

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

In it, he wrote that Frydrychowicz “expressed concern about the predicament of the minor during the hearing; she compassionately asked difficult questions of the minor about sensitive personal matters.” The hearing took place in the judge’s room, with the teenager’s case officer and a guardian ad litem next to her.

Makar stated that based on a transcript, the teen was “knowledgeable about the relevant considerations in terminating her pregnancy” and had gone through a pamphlet and searched Google for more information about her options and potential consequences.

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

By rejecting the petition, Makar wrote, Frydrychowicz left open the possibility of additional proceedings, saying that the girl could “formulate her request appropriately” at a later date and that the court could reassess its decision. The main factor turned out to be the Frydrychowicz’s initial concern that the teen’s assessment of the benefits and consequences of her decision was “too little.”

“If you read between the lines, it seems that the court wanted to give the minor, who was under additional pressure from the death of a friend, extra time to show more understanding of the consequences of terminating a pregnancy.” wrote Makar. “This makes sense, as the minor, at least at one point, said she was open to having a child, but later changed her mind after considering she was unable to care for a child. in her current position in life.”

Due to time constraints, he said he would have referred the case back to the Frydrychowicz court for a reassessment.

Like Ziegler, Makar also wondered why the case went to a judicial bypass if the teen’s guardian, as the teen wrote in her petition, supported her decision. He wrote, “If the minor’s guardian agrees to the minor’s termination of her pregnancy, all that is required is a written waiver from the guardian.” The teen also “inexplicably ticked the box to indicate that she did not ask for a lawyer,” despite her right to have one appointed for free, Makar wrote.

Cohen, the retired child welfare judge, said a petitioner’s uncertainty about getting an abortion is not a relevant criterion.

“There is no ground that says, ‘Well, if she falters, don’t give it.’ The ground is to allow it when she’s mature enough to make the decision,” Cohen said. “Just because you grant the waiver doesn’t mean she should get it.” [an abortion]. Allow 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 gestation), denying the girl’s request but leaving it open can of the door to possibly review it and try again, eventually putting her off for a long time. enough to be where she would be outside the legal window of the state. Any delay, Cohen notes, narrows a submitter’s options. For example, after 10 weeks, the girl can have a medical abortion, which is less expensive and invasive than a surgical abortion, which she may need if she has to wait longer.

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

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