Girl, 13, argues right to abortion
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."