A pregnant and parentless 16-year-old in Florida may be forced to give birth after an appeals court ruled she was not “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy.”
The teenager, who is identified in court papers as Jane Doe 22-B, was appealing a decision by Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz on Aug. 10 that blocked her from having an abortion without the consent of a parent or guardian, as required by Florida law.
At the time, the teenager was 10 weeks pregnant, the court papers state.
But the three-judge panel of the state's 1st District Court of Appeal, which covers northern Florida, sided Monday, for the most part, with Frydrychowicz.
The teenager "had not established by clear and convincing evidence that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy,” the ruling by Judges Harvey Jay, Rachel Nordby and Scott Makar, states. “Having reviewed the record, we affirm the trial court’s decision under the deferential standard of appellate review set out (in the consent law).”
Dissenting from the other judges, however, Makar wrote that the appeals court should send the case back to Frydrychowicz for the possibility of further consideration.
“The trial judge apparently sees this matter as a very close call, finding that the minor was 'credible,' 'open' with the judge, and nonevasive," Makar wrote. “The trial judge must have been contemplating that the minor — who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time — would potentially be returning before long — given the statutory time constraints at play — to shore up any lingering doubt the trial court harbored.”
Makar noted that the teenager is “parentless,” lives with a relative, but also has an appointed guardian. She was also savvy enough to do Google searches "to gain an understanding about her medical options and their consequences."
“She is pursuing a GED with involvement in a program designed to assist young women who have experienced trauma in their lives by providing educational support and counseling,” Makar wrote. “The minor experienced renewed trauma (the death of a friend) shortly before she decided to seek termination of her pregnancy.”
Makar also noted that in her petition, which "she completed by hand," the teenager insisted "she is sufficiently mature to make the decision, saying she 'is not ready to have a baby,' she doesn’t have a job, she is 'still in school,' and the father is unable to assist her."
The "guardian is fine with what [she] wants to do" the teenager claimed, according to Makar.
The teenager's guardian and case worker were with her in court.
But "inexplicably," Makar wrote, the teenager "checked the box indicating she did not request an attorney, which is available by law for free under the statute."
Makar also noted that Frydrychowicz "displayed concern for the minor’s predicament throughout the hearing."
"She asked difficult questions of the minor on sensitive personal matters in a compassionate manner," Makar wrote. "The trial judge’s tone and method of questioning were commendable."
NBC News has reached out to Frydrychowicz, a registered Republican who also serves on the board of the Escambia Children’s Trust, which runs educational and other programs for kids in the county, for comment.
Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 that cleared the way for the state Legislature to pass a law requiring that parents or guardians be notified before minors have abortions.
But because some minors faced possible abuse if their parents found out they're pregnant, Florida lawmakers also included a legal process that made it possible for them to go to court to get around the rules.
Then in June of 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also a Republican, signed SB 404, legislation which requires written consent from a minor’s parent or legal guardian for an abortion.
“Thanks to Ron DeSantis, Florida is now forcing a teenager to give birth against her will," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Travis Reuther said in a statement. "That is an appalling and dangerous overreach by the Governor, who claims to represent the ‘free state of Florida,’ but wants to make women’s healthcare decisions for them."
NBC News has reached out to DeSantis for a response.
Abortion rights in Florida were endangered even before the Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade. In April, DeSantis signed into law a measure banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a measure that is being challenged in court.