A Florida circuit judge tried to block a 17-year-old high school student from getting an abortion because, in part, the judge thought her GPA was too low.
The 17-year-old, known as “Jane Doe” in court papers, successfully appealed the circuit judge’s ruling this week. In a 2-1 ruling in the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, the panel of judges found that Doe was mature enough to earn what’s known as a “judicial bypass,” an arduous legal process that lets minors get abortions without involving their parents.
In his original ruling, Hillsborough County Circuit Court Judge Jared E. Smith focused on the fact that Doe had originally said she made “B” grades, but her current GPA is 2.0.
“Clearly, a ‘B’ average would not equate to a 2.0 GPA,” Smith wrote. Doe’s “testimony evinces either a lack of intelligence or credibility, either of which weigh against a finding of maturity pursuant to the statute.”
But a ruling written by Judge Darryl Casanueva and joined by Judge Susan Rothstein-Youakim pointed out that if Doe is making “Bs,” then her current GPA may not reflect her newer grades. And, in any case, “we observe a ‘C’ average demonstrates average intelligence for a high school student,” Casanueva wrote. “The evidence certainly did not show that her overall intelligence was ‘less than average.’”
The appeals court ruling also demolishes some of Smith’s other arguments that Doe shouldn’t get an abortion. While Smith used the fact that Doe doesn’t care for any younger family members to evaluate her emotional stability, Casanueva pointed out that Doe doesn’t have younger siblings. And while Smith said that Doe “has never had any financial responsibilities, even so much as paying her own cellphone bills,” Casanueva stressed that Doe works upwards of 20 hours a week, has $1,600 in savings and two credit cards, and pays for practically everything but the cellphone bills.
Doe’s “testimony demonstrates that she possesses an ability to assess the consequences of her choice and the risk it entails,” Casanueva wrote in the 22-page ruling.
Thirty-eight states, including Florida, require that parents be notified if a minor wants to get an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions. (Technically, Florida also requires that parents consent to the procedure.) Most of those states have also set up judicial bypass systems.
The exact criteria for obtaining a judicial bypass varies state by state, but it’s clear that judges have had enormous leeway in denying minors abortions. In a review of 40 judicial bypasses cases, Mother Jones found that a host of denials for what the outlet called “arbitrary, absurd, or personal reasons”—such as three judges who denied petitions because, in getting pregnant by accident, the minors had demonstrated that they were too immature to get an abortion.
In one headline-making 2013 case, a Nebraska judge ruled that a girl in foster care shouldn’t get an abortion because she was financially dependent on her parents.
“It's OK for her to relinquish her child for adoption,” the minor’s attorney, Catherine Mahern, told ABC News at the time. “She doesn't need a court to determine the underlying psychological impact or emotional impact of giving up a child, which I think is significant.”
In the Florida case this week, Doe said she wanted an abortion because “she is not yet financially stable and that she wants to be able to be on her own first,” per Casanueva’s ruling. Doe ultimately wants to go into the military, then go to college and become a nurse. Although Doe’s boyfriend and his mother support her decision to end the pregnancy, Doe said that her parents would try to convince her to continue it if they found out about it.
Judge John Stargel was the only member of the appeals court panel to dissent from the ruling to let Doe get an abortion.
“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.”
Stargel, who also drew attention to the fact that Doe had made some misspellings and grammatical errors in her petition, is married to Florida state Sen. Kelli Stargel, who has introduced a bill to ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“From what I have seen, the social media-driven rage over my husband’s dissent is rife with pro-abortion rhetoric, yet so short on actual facts, I really have to question whether they actually read anything about the case,” Stargel wrote.