Florida girl, 16, too immature for abortion but fine to be a mom? That makes no sense | Editorial

·4 min read
MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

A 16-year-old Florida girl wanted an abortion at 10 weeks, but an Escambia County circuit judge ruled that she wasn’t “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.”

If the decision stands — and there are signs it could be revisited — she’ll be forced to remain pregnant, give birth and become a mother.

The contradiction is obvious: A teen is deemed too immature to make a medical decision about her own body but, a few months from now, will magically be able to handle responsibility for a whole other human being.

It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense on its face — unless you think that reasoning is simply cover for anti-abortion sentiment. With this case coming on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June and Florida’s imposition of a 15-week abortion ban, we can’t fault anyone who wonders if that’s really what’s at play.

There are additional points to take into consideration, though, and some things we don‘t know about the situation with Jane Doe 22-B, as the teen is called in court records.

The Miami Herald reported that the girl, who is just shy of 17, asked Circuit Judge Jennifer J. Frydrychowicz for what’s called a “judicial bypass” to a Florida law that requires minors to have the consent of a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion. Frydrychowicz refused, with caveats — notably that Jane Doe 22-B could come back to court if she’s better able to articulate her request. A three-judge appellate court panel in the First District Court of Appeal in Pensacola upheld the decision, though one judge said the case should be sent back to the circuit court for possible reconsideration.

According to the appellate court documents, Jane is “parentless,” living with a relative and overseen by an appointed guardian. The documents said she is “pursuing a GED with involvement in a program designed to assist young women who have experienced trauma in their lives” and that she “experienced renewed trauma” when a friend died recently.

In the handwritten form she submitted to the Escambia courts, Jane said she felt she was mature enough to make the decision, wasn’t ready to have a baby, has no job, remains in school and added that the father is unable to assist her. She also said her guardian is “fine” with her decision to obtain an abortion.

Girl was ‘credible’

The Escambia judge, Frydrychowicz, called Jane “credible” and showed “at times” that she was sufficiently mature to make the decision, but that her ability to evaluate the benefits and consequences of the decision was “wanting.”

And yet it sounds as though Jane had already done a fair amount of considering. She 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 documents said.

One of the puzzles here is that, as the appellate court noted, Jane’s guardian could execute a written waiver and that would end any more issues with the courts. Again, we don’t know everything about this case.

“Reading between the lines,” one of the appellate judges noted, “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. 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.”

We don’t know for sure what the judge saw when she spoke to Jane about an abortion. The girl had her guardian and case worker with her in court, but did not have a lawyer — she “inexplicably” failed to check the box asking for free representation — and that might have been a game changer. That failure also has the marks of someone too young and inexperienced to understand the workings of the courts, which might have been a factor.

The appellate court commended the judge for her compassion, tone and manner when asking Jane about an incredibly sensitive issue. That’s great but let’s not lose sight of the issue here. An apparently traumatized child was denied an abortion on grounds that she wasn’t sufficiently mature to make that decision, consigning her to bear a child she said she doesn’t want and can’t support, potentially retraumatizing her in the process.

In a confusing and difficult case like this, we truly hope this judge does what she said, and leaves her door wide open.