Judicial

Divided Florida Appeals Court rules in favor of teenager who may abort without getting consent from her parents

By Dave Andrusko

Over the objections of Judge John Stargel, the remaining two members of a state appeals court panel overturned the decision by the trial judge to deny a teenager’s request to waive a requirement in Florida law that minors receive parental consent before having an abortion. 

“For appellate purposes, it is not necessary for the members of this panel to agree with her conclusions or to approve them,” said Judge Darryl Casanueva who was 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.”

They concluded, “Because the statutory factors the circuit court addressed show that the Petitioner met her burden of proof, yet the circuit court denied the petition for reasons not supported by the record, we conclude the circuit court abused its discretion.”

Not so, said Judge Stargel. “Because there is competent substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, and because I do not agree there was an abuse of discretion, I must respectfully dissent.”

Judge Stargel noted that 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.” 

Judge Stargel continued.The trial court in this matter 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 of section 390.01114(6)(c)1 by showing sufficient maturity to terminate her pregnancy without notifying a parent. The trial court then fulfilled its statutory obligations under section 390.01114(6)(e)2 by including factual findings and legal conclusions supporting its decision, including factual findings and legal conclusions relating to the maturity of the minor. The trial  judge wrote a ten-page order consisting of twenty-six numbered  paragraphs wherein he walked through each of the statutory factors and discussed evidence he found compelling or lacking as he analyzed the case.”

Put another way, the trial judge undertook an exhaustive examination to determine whether the girl “show[ed] sufficient maturity to terminate her pregnancy without notifying a parent.”

Judge Stargel chose not to second guess the trial judge, judges Casanova and Rothstein-Yoakum felt no such obligation.

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