13 year old girl argues abortion in court
She's 13 and pregnant... and is arguing. Wow.
Judge asked to reverse decision by state guardian
"Why can't I make my own decision?"
That was the blunt question to a judge from a pregnant 13-year-old girl ensnared in a Palm Beach County court fight over whether she can have an abortion.
"I don't know," Circuit Judge Ronald Alvarez replied, according to a recording of the closed hearing obtained Friday.
"You don't know?" replied the girl, who is a ward of the state. "Aren't you the judge?"
Against a backdrop of state and federal efforts to pass a parental notification law for teen abortions, the exchange was typical of L.G.'s pluck as she argued that she had the right and capability to make her own decision, despite a move by the Department of Children & Families to seek a judge's permission for her abortion.
"I think if I want to make the decision, it's my business and I can do that," she told the judge.
The DCF is the teen's legal guardian after she was taken away from her parents for abuse or neglect. State law allows minors to have abortions without notifying their guardians. Experts say the law extends to wards of the state, raising the question of why this girl's decision has ended up before a judge.
DCF Secretary Luci Hadi requested a judge's ruling, according to a department statement released Friday. DCF attorneys filed an emergency motion Tuesday morning, the same day L.G.'s caseworker was prepared to take her to a clinic for the abortion.
"The Department of Children and Families has the custodial responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the child," the department said.
Alvarez had ordered a psychological evaluation to determine L.G.'s mental condition and whether she would be harmed by terminating the pregnancy or giving birth.
The case is now before the 4th District Court of Appeal where it has been fast-tracked after attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed an emergency appeal Wednesday, arguing that neither the judge nor DCF should be involved in L.G.'s decision.
While delaying any ruling until the appeals court decides, Alvarez held a hearing Thursday to weigh arguments.
DCF attorney Jeffrey Gillen said he was concerned L.G. was more likely to suffer "detrimental effects" if she underwent an abortion because she had psychiatric or behavioral problems in the past.
L.G., who told Alvarez she had run away at least five times from her youth shelter, maintained, "It would make no sense to have the baby."
"I don't think I should have the baby because I'm 13, I'm in a shelter and I can't get a job," the girl said as Alvarez and her guardian ad litem, assigned to shepherd her in the legal system, questioned her.
L.G. laid out different reasons for wanting an abortion.
"DCF would take the baby anyway," she said, but later added: "If I do have it, I'm not going to let them take it."
She also questioned the health risk of carrying the fetus to term.
"Since you guys are supposedly here for the best interest of me, then wouldn't you all look at that fact that it'd be more dangerous for me to have the baby than to have an abortion?" she asked. Alvarez called that "a good point."
Dr. Ethelene Jones, an expert in obstetrics and gynecology, testified earlier in the hearing that abortions are "definitely" safer than full term pregnancies for girls L.G.'s age.
"At her age and at her stage of gestation ... her risk of death from an abortion procedure is about 1 in 34,000," said Jones, who has held positions at Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. "The risk of death in pregnancy is about 1 in 10,000."
L.G. said her caseworker had taken her on three visits to clinics, and risks and alternatives to abortion were discussed.
Lynn Hargrove, the court-appointed psychologist, testified L.G. had a "mild mood disorder" but did not have "a significant psychotic or delusional thought process" that would interfere with rational decision making.
J.G. is 14 weeks pregnant, witnesses testified, which would indicate she became pregnant after she ran away from a group home in late January and was missing for a month.
She had sex with "a boy" but refused to disclose his name to Alvarez saying: "That's not really necessary."
The judge blasted the DCF, saying the agency never asked the court to issue an order to take the child into custody after her most recent disappearance.
"To say that I am angry at that would be an understatement," Alvarez said. "To rush into this court on an emergency basis because this child is pregnant and wants an abortion, I don't know where our priorities in life are. The priority should have been to make certain that an order to take her into custody was issued as soon as possible, and that she was found and taken off of the streets or wherever she was. But nobody cared."
Munoz said DCF immediately notified law enforcement in Pinellas County when the girl ran away Jan. 29.
Munoz declined to specify what agency was notified, saying that could compromise L.G.'s privacy rights by leading to information about where she was living.
"As we do in all instances when a child runs away from their placement, we immediately notify law enforcement, submit a report into the Missing Child Tracker System, and notify other state agencies as appropriate," the agency said in statement Friday.