Appeals Court Rules on Parental Notification Waiver
Florida's statute requiring parental notification in most situations where a girl under 18 is seeking an abortion was put to the test earlier this week. According to Florida 10th Judicial Circuit documents, appeals court judges ruled 2-1 to reverse a lower court's decision denying a waiver of parental notification requirements to a teenage girl.
Initially, a judge in Polk County told the girl that she would not be allowed to obtain a parental notification waiver. The girl had expressed fear over talking to her mother about the procedure and worried that she would be unwelcome in her home. She had no meaningful contact with her father.
The teen is identified as Jane Doe in court documents to protect her privacy in this sensitive case. The 2nd District Court of Appeal's ruling indicated that two of the three judge panel believed that the girl had exercised reasonable judgment when asking for a parental notification waiver and permission to seek an abortion.
According to the majority, made up of Judge Douglas Wallace and Judge Stevan Northcutt, the girl's fears about her mother seemed grounded in facts, and the girl had also expressed fears about an inability to continue academically if she were to have her child. Rather than a “frivolous schoolgirl,” they said that the girl had acted maturely and with regard for her academic and economic future.
The 17 year old Jane Doe says she became pregnant after a night of heavy drinking at a party and has only vague recollections of the events in question. This caused the dissenting judge to question her level of judgment and ability to make a decision concerning her pregnancy.
Florida laws allow judges a great deal of discretion in allowing or forbidding a parental notification waiver. Judges are asked to consider several factors in their determinations, including the age of the minor involved, their level of maturity, intelligence, credibility, and whether they are capable of understanding and consenting to the medical risks involved with the abortion procedure.
Judge Anthony Black, in his dissent, said that too much attention had been paid to the words in the girl's testimony. However, he said, the trial judge in the case had observed what he considered to be troubling demeanor, including what he claimed was a “cavalier” attitude toward the abortion procedure.
Cases involving parental notification waivers can often involve judicial back and forth that delays abortions by weeks or even months—which can mean that by the time the issue is finally decided, a girl is prohibited from having an abortion either by statute or because of the higher price of late term abortions.