Florida court says teen isn't mature enough to get an abortion

John Raoux/AP Photo
·3 min read

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida court of appeal this week upheld a decision stating a 16-year-old teen could not get an abortion because she lacked the maturity to make such a decision, even after the parentless teen said she was not ready to have a child and is still in school.

An opinion released Monday by the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision by a state court judge. That judge was not convinced the teen had demonstrated the maturity to choose to get an abortion. The teen, identified only as Jane Doe 22-B, has no parents but is in the care of Florida’s child welfare agency and has a guardian. She is about 10 weeks pregnant and currently resides with a relative.

“The minor states that she is sufficiently mature to make the decision, saying she ‘is not ready to have a baby,’ she doesn’t have a job, she is ‘still in school,’” the Monday order states. “And the father is unable to assist her.”

Florida abortion law requires parents to consent before a minor can have an abortion. But underage teens can also circumvent the consent requirement by asking for a waiver from a state circuit court judge. According to the appeal court’s decision, the teen’s guardian supports the teen’s wish to get an abortion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020 signed into law a measure that made parental consent for an abortion a requirement for minors. The new law was a win for Republicans who long sought to topple precedent set by the state Supreme Court in 1989 when it rejected a similar parental notification law that was declared a violation of privacy. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that led the Legislature to create a parental notification requirement, but it provides for exceptions and the ability for minors to ask the court for waivers.

The court’s decision to deny the teen an abortion was just one of the roughly 200 petitions filed by minors looking to bypass parental notification laws that Florida circuit court judges decide every year. A POLITICO analysis of Florida court reports shows the majority of those petitions are approved. Judges deny an average of 18 of those petitions each year.

This year, Florida’s GOP-led Legislature banned pregnant people from receiving abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law provides no exceptions for rape or incest. That law, however, is separate from the parental consent requirement.

The teen’s initial request to get an abortion without a guardian’s permission was first denied by Escambia County Circuit Judge Jessica Frydrychowicz but upheld by the three-judge appellate panel.

But one appeals court judge, Scott Makar, offered partial dissent, writing in the opinion that the appellate court should have sent the case back to the lower court.

“Given the open-ended nature of the order reflecting the trial judge’s willingness to hear from the minor again—and the time pressures presented—I would remand the case to the trial court,” Makar wrote.

The Escambia County Judicial Circuit, where the teen sought permission for an abortion, sees an average of one to two petitions a year and that circuit has not dismissed a petition in at least five years, the reports show.

Jane Doe 22-B is not without options. Makar wrote that the teen was grief-stricken by the recent death of a friend and that Frydrychowicz was willing to re-evaluate the case in a few days.

“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.”