A Florida appeals court will force a parentless 16-year-old girl to give birth because the teen is not “sufficiently mature” to decide for herself whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
A circuit court judge previously denied the girl’s request to waive a state law requiring minors get parental consent for an abortion. On Monday, a three-judge panel upheld the decision.
“This is so profoundly wrong, on so many levels,” healthcare attorney Harry Nelson, who is not involved in the case, told The Daily Beast Tuesday. “...The true believers who think it’s a good thing to require children to have children, that they think this is going to be a net benefit to anyone, are in a delusional place.”
The unnamed teen, according to the appellate ruling, is getting a GED through a program for young people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives. In her petition, the girl—who lives with a relative and has an appointed guardian—argued that she is “still in school” and “is not ready to have a baby,” noting that her guardian was “fine with what [she] wants to do.”
She met with Escambia County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer J. Frydrychowicz, along with a case worker and a child advocate, but “inexplicably” did not request a lawyer who would have represented her for free, the ruling states.
“The trial judge displayed concern for the minor’s predicament throughout the hearing; she asked difficult questions of the minor on sensitive personal matters in a compassionate manner,” it continues. “The trial judge’s tone and method of questioning were commendable and her ability to produce a thoughtful written order in a rapid fashion is admirable (she prepared her written order immediately after the hearing, handing a copy thereafter to the minor).”
Frydrychowicz saw the case “as a very close call,” the ruling says, describing the judge’s impression of the teen as “credible” and “open,” and that she “showed, at times, that she is stable and mature enough to make this decision.”
It says the girl was 10 weeks pregnant at the time, but does not provide a specific timeline that would indicate how far along she would be now. She was “knowledgeable” about what was involved with terminating a pregnancy, and had done Google searches and read a pamphlet given to her at a medical clinic, the ruling notes. It also says the teen “acknowledges she is not ready for the emotional, physical, or financial responsibility of raising a child,” and “has valid concerns about her ability to raise a child.”
Still, Frydrychowicz chose to deny the petition—although she did not rule out reconsidering if the teen were “able, at a later date, to adequately articulate her request,” according to a partial dissent by Judge Scott Makar.
“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,” Makar wrote. “This makes some sense given that the minor, at least at one point, says she was open to having a child, but later changed her view after considering her inability to care for a child in her current station in life.”
However, Judges Harvey Jay and Rachel Nordby wrote in the main decision that the trial court found the teen “had not established by clear and convincing evidence that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.”
Florida statute “allows for a remand to the trial court with instructions for a further ruling, but no such remand is warranted here,” the appeal judges declared. “The trial court’s order and findings are neither unclear nor lacking such that a remand would be necessary for us to perform our review under the statute.”
Nelson, the attorney, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that the ripples from Monday’s decision are sure to be profound.
“This is going to have terrible ramifications for the young woman, for the baby that will be born because of this, and for society,” he said. “It’s almost like a form of servitude to block a young girl from an abortion.”
Aside from “generating horror,” decisions like Monday’s will only serve to force women to seek dangerous black market abortions, according to Nelson. This, he said, “will drive home the point that self-managed abortions away from the system are going to be the only option for many women.”
The teen’s case hinged upon 2020’s Parental Notice of and Consent for Abortion Act, which makes it a third-degree felony for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy of “an unemancipated minor without the required consent.”
“Thanks to Ron DeSantis, Florida is now forcing a teenager to give birth against her will,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Travis Reuther said in an emailed statement. “That is an appalling and dangerous overreach by the Governor, who claims to represent the ‘free state of Florida,’ but wants to make women’s healthcare decisions for them. DeSantis has refused to answer basic questions about abortion restrictions for months now, but his extreme bans are already leading to Florida women suffering severe consequences.”
Lucy Sedgwick, president & CEO of Ruth’s List Florida, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice women in the state, told The Daily Beast the decision is not only “downright cruel, it’s unconscionable.”
“I cannot wrap my mind around the sheer hypocrisy of forcing a teenager to continue a pregnancy because she’s ‘not mature enough’—but she’s mature enough to carry and raise a child?” Sedgwick said. “Where’s the logic in that?”
The state is “sliding further backwards when it comes to our most basic freedoms,” according to Sedgwick. “Floridians overwhelmingly want and deserve the right to make our own reproductive healthcare decisions free from political interference. But with the loss of Roe and Florida Republicans hell bent on banning all abortion in the state, the most important thing we can do is get out and vote.”
According to Human Rights Watch, the majority of young people “voluntarily involve a parent or another trusted adult in their abortion decision, even if the law doesn’t require it. But for those who don’t—often because they fear abuse, deterioration of family relationships, being kicked out of the home, or being forced to continue a pregnancy—laws like Florida’s pose a barrier to their care.”
Autumn Katz, interim director of litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says parental consent laws “have nothing to do with patient safety,” and in fact make young people less safe overall.
“No one, including pregnant minors, should be forced to go to court and sacrifice their dignity just to access the critical health care they need,” Katz told The Daily Beast. “In order to obtain services without parental involvement, Floridians would have to travel thousands of miles to a state like Virginia—a barrier that most young people, many of whom have very limited resources, will not be able to overcome. Everybody deserves the ability to make deeply personal decisions about pregnancy and parenting that are best for their lives and futures.”
Florida—which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy—also has additional, equally onerous restrictions on people seeking abortions, such as a required 24-hour waiting period that includes an extra trip to a provider before being able to receive care, mandatory counseling and ultrasound, and a ban on the state exchange of insurance plans that offer abortion coverage. In addition to Florida, 35 other states also require some level of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“I think we’re living in upside-down-world to the extent that anyone thinks this a good outcome on any level,” said Nelson. “It’s crazy that The Handmaid’s Tale has gone from a work of fiction to a non-fiction work in our lifetime. It is quite a powerful statement.”