Placeholder when loading item promotions
A Florida appeals court on Monday upheld a ruling that denied a 16-year-old an abortion over concerns she lacked 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 “almost seventeen years old and orphaned” and identified only as Jane Doe 22-B, had submitted a handwritten petition asking for the state’s parental notification and consent requirements to be waived. Under Florida law, an abortion on a minor generally cannot be performed without the consent of a parent or legal guardian.
In her petition, the teenager wrote that she still goes to school and has no job and that “the father cannot help her,” according to the appeals court. Court records show she was 10 weeks pregnant when she asked the court for permission to terminate her pregnancy.
Jane Doe 22-B lives with a relative and has an appointed guardian.
She is pursuing a GED through a program that supports young women who have experienced trauma. After the death of a friend, she suffered “renewed trauma”, according to the judgment of the court of appeal. She decided to have an abortion shortly thereafter.
Escambia County Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz denied the petition, in what a 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Scott Makar called “very narrowly.” The Court of Appeals upheld Frydrychowicz’s decision, with a majority of the three-judge panel agreeing that the lower court’s order and findings are “neither unclear nor defective” and warrant a reconsideration.
The decision was condemned by Florida lawmakers who support access to abortion. State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) wrote on Twitter that there is “a lot of cruelty 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 was difficult to get the full context of the case because details of the court case are sealed, although they questioned why the girl was not appointed attorney and why she checked a box in her petition saying she did not petition have asked .
Thirty-five states have court-circumvention laws that allow minors to seek court permission to have an abortion when they would otherwise need parent or guardian consent. Florida is among the stricter standards, according to Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California at Davis who used to teach in Florida on the history, politics and law of reproductive health. State legislatures expanded Florida’s parent involvement law in 2020, requiring teens not only to notify a parent, but also to obtain their consent.
“Trying to find out what the trial judge did is difficult,” Ziegler said. “But this is a person who we know has recently experienced trauma and is not an expert in navigating the legal system. This seems to be held against her or to signal that she is “not mature”. ”
In an enigmatic detail of the case, the teen said in her petition that her guardian “agrees with what [she] wants to do.” If the guardian supports her decision, Ziegler said, it is unclear why the case went into a bypass procedure at all.
“It’s also somewhat noticeable because rejections aren’t that common,” Ziegler said.
How hard is it to get a court-approved abortion? For a teenager, GPA mattered.
The district court’s decision raises further questions.
Determining a petitioner’s maturity is ultimately at the discretion of the judge, although they typically follow a pattern, according to Jeri Beth Cohen, a retired Miami-Dade County child welfare judge.
Cohen, who heard court evasion cases during her time at the bank, said she would ask the petitioners if they had spoken to trusted adults about their situation, whether they were at school or work, who they lived with, whether they had the basics who understand abortion procedures and why they felt it was not right to continue their pregnancy.
Judges, Cohen said, also consider “maturity, or”: Is a minor mature, or are they in a situation where it would be dangerous or disadvantageous to seek the consent of a parent or legal guardian, such as in a case where the minor was abused by his guardian ?
“The dissent seemed to make it very clear that she was being questioned extensively and seemed to be showing maturity, so that should be the end,” Cohen said. “Once you’ve made those statements, you pretty much have to agree [the bypass].”
Cohen also pointed out 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 that such a form does not accompany the girl’s application seems to be.
“It is not enough to simply state that the guardian has no objection. That’s most likely why the clinic sent her for court evasion,” 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 Court of Appeals partially agreed with Justices Harvey Jay and Rachel Nordby in their decision, but wrote that the case should be remanded to the lower court for a possible re-evaluation. His partial dissenting opinion offers a rare insight into the case.
In it he wrote that Frydrychowicz “expressed concern at the minor’s predicament during the hearing; She compassionately asked the minor difficult questions about sensitive personal matters.” The hearing took place in the judge’s rooms, along with the teenager’s clerk and a litigator.
Makar explained that based on a transcript, the teenager was “familiar with the relevant considerations about terminating her pregnancy” and had consulted a leaflet and searched Google for more information about her options and possible consequences.
“The trial court found that the minor ‘acknowledges that she is unwilling to accept the emotional, physical or financial responsibility of raising a child’ and ‘has legitimate concerns about her ability to raise a child,'” he continued away.
In denying the request, Makar wrote, Frydrychowicz left open the possibility of a further trial, saying the girl might be able to “reasonably articulate” her request at a later date and that the court would reconsider its decision could rate. The decisive factor seemed to be Frydrychowicz’s initial concern that the teenager underestimated the benefits and consequences of her decision.
“Reading between the lines, it appears that the trial court wanted to give the minor, who was under added stress from the death of a friend, additional time to express a better understanding of the consequences of an abortion,” Makar wrote. “This makes sense considering the minor said at least at one point she was open to having a child, but later changed her mind after considering that in her current living situation she would not be able to care for a child .”
Due to time constraints, he would have referred the case back to the Frydrychowicz court for reassessment.
Like Ziegler, Makar questioned why the case should be bypassed in court if, as the teenager wrote in her petition, the teenager’s guardian supported her decision. He wrote, “If the minor’s guardian consents to the minor’s termination of pregnancy, all that is required is a written waiver from the guardian.” The teen also “inexplicably ticked the box to indicate that she had not requested a lawyer,” although she had the right to appoint a lawyer free of charge, Makar wrote.
Cohen, the retired child welfare judge, said a petitioner’s uncertainty about getting an abortion is not a relevant criterion.
“There’s no reason that says, ‘Well, if she falters, don’t give it.’ The reason is to grant it when she’s mature enough to make the decision,” Cohen said. “Just because you give the waiver doesn’t mean she has to get it [an abortion]. Admit it, and if she changes her mind, she’ll change her mind.”
Given Florida’s relatively short 15-week abortion window (states with fewer restrictions typically allow abortions up to 22 or 24 weeks gestation), denying the girl’s application, but leaving the door open to a possible revision and trying again, ultimately delaying her long enough where she would be outside the state’s legal window. Any delay, Cohen notes, limits a petitioner’s options. For example, after 10 weeks, the girl could 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’s very traumatizing to be rejected and have to come back. And it’s going to be very expensive,” Cohen said. “What she can afford today, she may not be able to afford tomorrow.”