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Human Rights Watch says Florida law obstructs young people’s ability to obtain abortion care

Judge’s gavel on a desk
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A state law that requires parental or judicial consent for a minor to get an abortion is making Florida one of the most difficult states in the country for young people to obtain the procedure, a new report says.

Hillsborough County's denial rate is higher than anywhere else in the state, the report says.

A state law that requires parental or judicial consent for a minor to get an abortion is making Florida one of the most difficult states in the country for young people to obtain the procedure, a new report says.

And Hillsborough County's denial rate is higher than anywhere else in the state, the report from Human Rights Watch says.

The group analyzed data from Florida courts in recent years, including statewide statistics on petitions filed, granted, and dismissed, as well as publicly available court records from cases decided by appeals courts.

The 39-page report, “Access Denied: How Florida Judges Obstruct Young People’s Ability to Obtain Abortion Care,” documents that many judges in the state deny young people’s petitions, forcing them to continue a pregnancy against their wishes.

Margaret Wurth is a senior researcher with the advocacy group and the author of the report.

"There is data showing that Florida's denial rate was higher than that of Texas,” she said. “You think about Texas as a state that has extreme abortion restrictions. But Florida's denial rate for judicial bypass was higher."

Under Florida law, a parent or legal guardian must provide consent for anyone under 18 who is planning to get abortion care. A judge can override that requirement in a court process called "judicial bypass."

During a hearing, the minors must demonstrate to a judge that they are sufficiently mature to decide to have an abortion without involvement from a parent or legal guardian.

According to the report, in 2020 and 2021, state judges rejected more than one in eight petitions. And in 2021, judges in Hillsborough County, denied half of all petitions.

“And in several other counties in the state every single petition heard in that year was granted,” said Wurth. “It shows you just how arbitrary it is, that young people, where they live, is a significant factor in whether or not they are going to be able to access abortion care."

Florida’s parental consent law makes it a misdemeanor of the first degree for physicians and other health care providers to provide medical services to a minor without first obtaining written parental consent.

Human Right Watch said allowing judges to decide whether young people can access health care is inherently problematic. And the judicial bypass process can be overwhelming for vulnerable minors, Wurth said.

"They're asked the most invasive and intimate questions about their health, their sex lives, about the family trauma that they've been through, about why they don't have a parent or legal guardian that can support them,” she said. “And reliving and retelling all of that to someone who has the power to determine your right to basic care is so damaging and so traumatizing."

Each year, about 200 young people go through judicial bypass in Florida.

Even when courts grant a judicial bypass request, the delays caused by the process can make abortion inaccessible due to Florida's ban on the procedure after 15 weeks, Wurth said.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.