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Florida appellate panel upholds blocking a minor's abortion under consent law

Abortion law concept. Pregnancy termination Legal or illegal. Judge gavel on Abortion Law book, wooden table background. 3D Render
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Florida voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that cleared the way for the Legislature to pass a law requiring that parents or guardians be notified before minors have abortions. Lawmakers in 2020 added to that with the consent requirement.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal did not detail the circumstances of the case, including the age of the minor, who was identified as Jane Doe.

A state appeals court Friday upheld a Calhoun County circuit judge’s ruling that blocked a minor from having an abortion without notification and consent of a parent or guardian.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal did not detail the circumstances of the case, including the age of the minor, who was identified by the pseudonym Jane Doe.

But the panel backed a decision by Circuit Judge Brandon Young, who found the minor “failed to demonstrate sufficient maturity” to receive a waiver of the notification and consent requirement, according to the appeals court.

“In a detailed order, the circuit court determined, based on the non-adversarial presentation below, that Doe had not established by clear and convincing evidence that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy,” Friday’s decision by appeals court Judges Rachel Nordby, Robert Long and M. Kemmerly Thomas said.

Thomas wrote a concurring opinion that indicated the case included an issue about appointing a guardian for the minor. She wrote that the notice-and-consent waiver process is limited.

“It only asks whether the minor has demonstrated sufficient maturity to obtain an abortion without the knowledge and consent of her parents or legal guardian,” Thomas wrote. “It is not the process by which a family member is appointed to act as the minor’s legal guardian. To the extent that Doe and her loved ones wish to obtain a court order appointing a family member as Doe’s legal guardian, they can file a guardianship petition with the circuit court. The record is devoid of any evidence that emergency legal action was taken to acquire temporary or permanent legal guardianship designation.”

Florida voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that cleared the way for the Legislature to pass a law requiring that parents or guardians be notified before minors have abortions. Lawmakers in 2020 added to that with the consent requirement.

The issue has long been controversial, with supporters of the requirements saying minors are not mature enough to make abortion decisions. But opponents have argued, in part, that some minors could face issues such as abuse if their parents found out they were pregnant.

Lawmakers included a process for minors to go to court and bypass the notice and consent requirements. Such cases reaching appellate courts are relatively rare.

But the 1st District Court of Appeal in 2022 upheld at least two decisions by circuit judges to block teens from having abortions. One of those decisions, in an Escambia County case, drew widespread attention, as the teen seeking a waiver was described by a judge as almost 17 and “parentless.”

State law requires that hearings in such cases be closed to the public. Also, records are kept confidential.

Copyright 2023 Health News Florida

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