The window for getting an abortion in her home state is closing for a parentless, pregnant 16-year-old Florida girl who was deemed not “sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy” by a panel of appeals court judges.
Florida bans all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy under a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed in April.
And the teenager, identified in court papers as Jane Doe 22-B, was 11 weeks pregnant as of Monday. She is parentless and a ward of the state until she turns 18.
“They are essentially forcing her into parenthood,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said at a news conference Wednesday. “She’s not mature enough to say, ‘I’m not ready to be a parent.’ But she’s mature enough to be forced to give birth.”
When asked how the three-judge panel of the state’s First District Court of Appeal could have reached such a contradictory conclusion, Jeri B. Cohen, a retired Miami-Dade child welfare judge, said: “That’s the question everyone is asking.”
“I guess people just assume that someone else will step in and care for the baby, without really focusing on the trauma involved in carrying a child to term whom you don’t want and can’t take care of,” she said. “I presided in a juvenile court, so I understand that trauma. In fact, this young woman recognized that she was in no position to raise a child for a plethora of reasons. To me, that’s maturity and a sign of self-empowerment.”
The teen had told a lower court that she wasn’t ready to have a baby, didn’t have a job and the father of the baby was unable to assist her, according to court records. The teen, who is living with a relative, also said that her appointed guardian was “fine” with her decision to have an abortion, the court records stated.
Jane has at least two more options to avoid becoming a teenage mother:
First, she can return to Circuit Judge Jennifer Frydrychowicz’s courtroom and ask her to reconsider her Aug. 10 denial of her request for what’s known as a “judicial bypass,” which would allow her to get an abortion without the consent of a parent or a guardian as required by Florida law.
Those who ask for judicial bypasses are usually in abusive situations where they would face harm if the father of the baby or a girl's parents found out they were seeking an abortion, Cohen said.
But so far, it does not appear Jane has asked Frydrychowicz to reconsider her earlier ruling, available court records show.
The judge's denial prompted the teenager to appeal that decision to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. That three-judge panel on Monday sided 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 stated. “Having reviewed the record, we affirm the trial court’s decision.”
The judges did not, according to available court records, delve into how Jane fell short of their definition of maturity. But Makar noted the Jane had “inexplicably” checked the box indicating “she did not request an attorney, which is available by law for free under the statute.”
He, however, also wrote that Jane was "pursuing a GED with involvement in a program designed to assist young women who have experienced trauma in their lives" and was savvy enough to do Google searches “to gain an understanding about her medical options and their consequences.” He also encouraged Jane to take another crack at convincing Frydrychowicz to relent.
Jane's other option is getting an abortion in another state — if the Florida Department of Children and Families allows her to go, since she is a ward of the state.
NBC News asked the agency if the teenager would be allowed to leave Florida to get the procedure and did not get a response.
Cohen, who presided over juvenile courts for many years, said getting Jane an out-of-state abortion would be “difficult but possible.”
“She would have to travel with a case manager, her legal guardian, or someone trusted by the court," she said. “The guardian or the friend would have to come into court and get a travel order.”
The Florida judge’s denial of the teenager’s bid for an abortion caused nationwide outrage but DeSantis, who is normally quick to defend his anti-abortion positions, has yet to weigh in on this controversial case.
“I would be shocked if DCF, given all this publicity would deny her permission to leave the state,” Cohen said. “If she can’t pay for the procedure, there are several funds in Florida that can assist her. Hopefully, she can get the procedure done in Florida before the 15th week. Nonetheless, the more expensive it becomes the longer she waits.”
And the more medically complicated it gets for Jane, women’s health experts said.
"At 11 weeks, medication abortion could potentially be tried, but there is a higher chance that it will fail," said Dr. Melissa A. Simon, vice chair of clinical research at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s department of obstetrics and gynecology.
This means Jane "will need a surgical procedure as well, usually called a dilation and evacuation," she said.
"These procedures carry more risks the more advanced the gestational age," Simon said. "This young girl could have had a medication abortion last week or earlier and the chance of success would have been very high, and thus the chance of needing surgery last week or earlier would have been very low."
Instead, she said, "all of these court battles and rulings are increasing her risk of complications due to the advancing gestational age, and that in my mind is egregious and not fair."