TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - A divided state appeals court has cleared the way for a 17-year-old high school student to have an abortion without getting approval from her parents, finding that she was mature enough to make the decision.
The 2-1 ruling Tuesday by a panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a Hillsborough County circuit judge's order denying a request to waive a requirement in state law that minors receive parental consent before having abortions.
The law, passed in 2020, provided what is known as a "judicial bypass" — a process in which minors can go to court to seek waivers from the parental-consent requirement. Appellate rulings in such cases are relatively unusual.
The minor, identified only as Jane Doe to protect her privacy, is a high-school junior who said in the case that she wants to go into the military and ultimately become a nurse. In seeking the parental-consent waiver, she said she was too young to become a parent, did not have sufficient income and would not be able to pursue her goal of going into the military, according to the ruling.
The panel majority said the minor's "testimony demonstrates that she possesses an ability to assess the consequences of her choice and the risk it entails, as well as the intention to reassess her decision after direct consultation with her physician."
It also said she met requirements in the law to receive the judicial bypass.
"For appellate purposes, it is not necessary for the members of this panel to agree with her conclusions or to approve them," said the 22-page ruling, written by Judge Darryl Casanueva and joined by Judge Susan Rothstein-Youakim. "Rather, it is appropriate to measure each conclusion against the terms legislatively pronounced as factors to be considered. This record demonstrates that the petitioner's testimony regarding the statutory factors was precise, explicit, and lacked any hint of confusion. It is of sufficient weight to entitle the petitioner to the requested relief."
But Judge John Stargel, in an eight-page dissent, wrote that Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jared Smith "had the opportunity to personally observe, inquire, and interact with the minor child to determine whether there was clear and convincing evidence that she met the statutory requirements" before denying the judicial bypass.
"The majority discounts most of the trial court's concerns regarding Doe's credibility and demeanor as a witness, overall intelligence, emotional development and stability, and ability to accept responsibility," Stargel wrote "The trial court is in a unique position to determine the credibility and demeanor of the witness. This court has long recognized that the trial court's findings, including those regarding the minor's demeanor, may support a determination that the minor did not prove that she was sufficiently mature to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy."
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