Florida court denies abortion, saying 16-year-old not ‘sufficiently mature’ to choose
The teenager was described in court documents as ‘almost 17 years old and parentless’
A Florida appeals court affirmed a lower court decision denying an abortion for a 16-year-old on the grounds that she is not mature enough to decide whether to have one.
In a handwritten petition, the teenager — identified only as Jane Doe 22-B — had asked the lower court to waive the state’s rule that required consent of a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion.
According to CNN, “Florida, which currently bans most abortions at 15 weeks, requires physicians to notify and obtain written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian before performing an abortion on the minor. Under the law, a minor is allowed to petition a circuit court to waive these requirements.”
The Washington Post wrote: “The teenager, described in court documents as ‘almost 17 years old and parentless,’ ... had submitted a handwritten petition seeking a waiver of the state’s parental notification and consent requirements. Under Florida law, an abortion generally cannot be performed on a minor without the consent of a parent or guardian.”
She was, according to court records, 10 weeks pregnant when she asked a court to let her end the pregnancy.
For a parental consent waiver, Florida law requires a court to find “by clear and convincing evidence, that the minor is sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.”
According to CNN, “The court needs to consider factors such as the minor’s age, ‘overall intelligence,’ ‘credibility and demeanor as a witness,’ ability to assess the consequences, and whether they understand the medical risks, according to the state law.”
Per The Washington Post, “Escambia County Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz denied the petition in what one judge with the 1st District Court of Appeal, Scott Makar, said appeared to be ‘a very close call.’”
Makar partially dissented when the appeals court upheld Frydrychowicz’s ruling. The panel, which in addition to Makar included judges Harvey Jay and Rachel Nordby, upheld the lower court’s decision, saying the findings “are neither unclear nor lacking” in a way that would require the court to reconsider.
Frydrychowicz had written that the teen “had not established by clear and convincing evidence that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.” At the time of her ruling, the judge seemed to leave the door open to reevaluation, noting that she “may be able, at a later date, to adequately articulate her request.”
Makar wrote that “reading between the lines, it appears that the trial court wanted to give the minor, who was under extra stress due to a friend’s death, additional time to express a keener understanding of the consequences of terminating a pregnancy.”
He said he would have returned the case to the lower court.
NPR noted a similar case with a different outcome in Florida: “This past January, a circuit court judge in another part of Florida denied another woman’s petition for this same kind of waiver, in part because of questions over her GPA. A higher court ultimately ruled in her favor, though not before the case shed a very public spotlight on the amount of discretion that judges have in making these kinds of determinations and the complexities of navigating parental consent laws in general.”
The Guttmacher Institute says 36 states have parental notification and/or consent laws requiring that parents of minors be informed or give permission for an abortion. Of those, three require both parents to consent. Ten of those states require just notification. In a medical emergency, 33 states let a minor receive an abortion, while 14 states permit a minor to obtain an abortion “in cases of abuse, assault, incest or neglect.”
And 35 states have a process that allows for a court to give approval, rather than a parent. But some experts believe that with the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, those laws are likely to change in a some states.
As NPR reported, “People under age 20 make up 12% of individuals who have abortions in the U.S., and minors ages 17 or younger account for about 4%, according to STAT News — meaning at least 50,000 adolescents seek abortion care each year.”