A pregnant and "parentless" 16-year-old may be forced to give birth against her will after a Florida court ruled she's not "sufficiently mature" enough to decide to have an abortion.
"The trial court found ... that [the teenager] had not established by clear and convincing evidence that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate
her pregnancy," states the ruling given on Monday, which affirmed the decision made by a circuit judge.
According to the ruling, the unnamed teenager had requested to bypass a Florida law requiring the permission of a parent or legal guardian in order to have an abortion as a minor.
In her petition, which the ruling described, the teen wrote that she was "not ready to have a baby" and that the father was unable to assist her. She did not have a job and was pursuing a GED with the help of a "program designed to assist young women who have experienced trauma in their lives" due to the recent death of a friend, according to her petition.
The girl was "parentless," according to the ruling, and "lives with a relative but has an appointed guardian." In her petition, the teen said that her “guardian is fine with what [she] wants to do."
She would have been permitted to have an abortion had her guardian submitted a written waiver, the ruling states, though details as to why she did not involve her guardian were not revealed in the court's decision.
The 16-year-old "inexplicably" checked a box on her petition waiving the appointment of an attorney, according to the ruling, but was accompanied to her hearing in Escambia County Circuit Court by a case worker and child advocate.
The appeals court ruling affirmed the denial of the teen's petition by Circuit Judge Jennifer J. Frydrychowicz who thought the teen was “credible,” “open," and "non-evasive," and “showed, at times, that she is stable and mature enough to make this decision," according to a transcript described in the appeals court ruling. The ruling also praised Frydrychowicz for showing "concern for the minor’s predicament" and asking questions in a "compassionate manner."
"[The teen] had done Google searches and reviewed a pamphlet (that she and a family member got from their visit to a medical clinic) to gain an understanding about her medical options and their consequences," the appeals court ruling says. "The trial court noted that the minor 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.'"
Frydrychowicz ultimately denied the teen's petition, but, due to seeing the matter "as a very close call," said the court would be allowed to reevaluate the decision "at a later date."
"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," Monday's ruling states.
But since abortion is legal in Florida only until the 15-week point, that "additional time" may be running out — the teen was 10 weeks pregnant at the time of the county court hearing.
Florida is one of 36 states that requires one or both of a minor's parents to be involved in their decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Most minors do involve their parents when they need abortions — but forcing them to do so can put them in serious danger. According to the sex education nonprofit Advocates for Youth, a fifth of pregnant minors "have experienced physical abuse by a parent or other caretaker," and 30% of those who don't speak about their abortion with a parent said they "feared violence or being forced to leave home."
More than half of pregnancies for minors between the ages of 15 and 17 end in abortion, according to data collected by the US Department of Health & Human Services. But with the overturning of Roe v. Wade clearing the path for abortion bans in a growing number of US states, more and more Americans may find themselves forced to carry unwanted — or even dangerous — pregnancies to term.
These restrictive laws are already affecting children and teens. In June, a 10-year-old who became pregnant after being raped had to travel from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion.