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Appeals Court Rules Against Teen In Abortion Parental Consent Case

Nearly six months after the Legislature passed a law requiring parental consent before minors can have abortions, an appeals court has turned down arguments of a pregnant teen who sought to be exempt from the requirement.

Florida has long had a requirement that parents be notified if teens plan to have abortions, but the ruling Monday by the 2nd District Court of Appeal appears to be one of the first appellate cases since the more-stringent consent law passed in February and took effect July 1.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld a ruling by a Hillsborough County circuit judge that the teen, identified only as Jane Doe, was not mature enough to receive what is known as a “judicial waiver” of the notice and consent requirements. The ruling said the teen was 14 at the time of a court hearing and was living with her 17-year-old boyfriend, who impregnated her.

“Although she made decent grades in school, her answers to the questioning of counsel and the trial court were vague, and our review of her testimony supports the trial court's finding that she was unable to articulate her understanding of the procedure, the medical risks involved, and the long- and short-term consequences of her decision,” said Monday’s decision, written by Judge Daniel Sleet and joined by Judges Craig Villanti and Edward LaRose. “Furthermore, there is nothing in the record to refute the trial court's assessment of her demeanor as ‘present(ing) as a very young, immature woman,’ and we must take that assessment into consideration. … Based on this record, Doe did not meet her burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that she possesses sufficient maturity to make the decision to terminate her pregnancy without parental consent.”

The parental consent bill (SB 404) was heavily debated during this year’s legislative session, and its Feb. 20 passage was a long-sought victory for abortion opponents. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it June 30, the day before it took effect.

Supporters of the bill argue that parents need to be involved when their underage daughters consider having abortions. But opponents contend the parental-consent requirement will endanger teens who could be subject to retribution or abuse if their parents find out they are pregnant or considering abortions.

The consent law, like the longstanding parental-notice law, includes a process in which minors can go to court to seek to avoid telling their parents about plans to have abortions. The law includes criteria for courts to consider, including whether teens are victims of abuse or whether they are “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate” their pregnancies.

The decision Monday focused on whether the teen was mature enough to decide to have an abortion. During a circuit-court hearing, she testified that her mother lived in Guatemala and that she came to the United States with her father, who would get angry and punish her if he knew she got pregnant, according to the appellate decision. But she also testified that she does not live with her father and doesn’t speak with him because they had changed their phone numbers.

The appeals court pointed to contradictory information from the teen, who said in an initial petition seeking the judicial waiver that she was afraid of her mother kicking her “out of the house.”

“The only proof Doe provided of her parents' whereabouts was her own testimony,” Sleet wrote. “But her testimony that her mother lived in Guatemala and that she had come to this country with only her father contradicted the allegations of her own sworn petition that she feared her mother would kick her out of the house if her mother found out she was pregnant. As such, she was untruthful with the court in her sworn testimony at the hearing or in her petition, which required her to sign an oath ‘swearing and affirming the truthfulness of the information herein’ under the threat of ‘fines, imprisonment or both.’ This placed her credibility in question.”

The panel concluded that based on the evidence, “the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Doe did not meet her burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence either that she was sufficiently mature to make the decision to terminate her pregnancy without notice to or the consent of her parents or that the requirements of the statute were not in her best interest.”

Copyright 2020 Health News Florida

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.