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April 30, 2005


Three months pregnant? So that means we have six months of "Saving Baby Florida" to look forward to.

Also, at this rate, it won't be long before Jeb becomes the religious right's favorite Bush.

It's weird, because I share your overall reaction to the outcome--namely, yuk--but if you were to ask me in the abstract whether I think a 13 y.o. is old enough to make a decision of this magnitude, I would probably say that as a general rule, 13 y.o.'s are *not* sufficiently mature. (Maybe in the middle ages people matured quicker; maybe your cousin was exceptionally mature for his age, etc.--but as a general rule, no). So: is she old enough to decide? My first take is, "no".

Still--to say that is simply to say that some other agent should be making decisions in her best interests.

And that should leave the next step completely open as to abortion or no abortion.

The fact that the state is acting as her guardian should have no greater tendency to force her to have the child than to force her not to have the child. As the guardian of her interests, in the absence of her own ability to look out for them, the state should be protecting *her* interests. If that means have the child, then so be it. If that means abort, then so be it.

Should the state, in acting as her guardian, consider any putative welfare of the potential child she may bear? I don't think so. At least if it does so, it cannot do so while wearing its guardian-of-a-minor hat.

Compare a case in which a ward possessed of a large sum of money was being persuaded by a charity to give up her inheritance in order to save starving children in Miami. Suppose that the child had decided (to the extent that she is capable of it), that she would give away all of her 10 million dollar future inheritance and leave herself impoverished in order to save the lives of some other children.

The state, as her ward, should surely intervene to prevent her from jeopardizing her future. This remains the case even if the state also has duties to prevent the starvation of those other children, and even if her self-destructive action would save their lives.

So: my call would be that the state ought to be deciding for her, and ought to be deciding *only* with regard to her best interests. And, absent a lot of argument to the contrary, that means that the state should be deciding that she should have an abortion. Its failure to do that means that it is delinquent in its duties to one of its charges.

This is just so profoundly wrong I cannot believe it's really happening.

She's thirteen. Edward, why on earth are you wishing she would decide to have her baby? There are major health risks involved in having a baby too young - it's just plain a bad idea. At thirteen, a child's bone structure isn't fully developed: pregnancy can put a major strain on it. Babies born to young teenagers are more likely to have a low birthweight or to be premature, which can cause health risks for them further on in life.

Now, with all that said, if this thirteen-year-old had had all the health risks explained to her and still wanted to go ahead with the pregnancy, I'd say that we have no choice but to hope she makes it through safely and has a healthy baby at the end of it. I'm pro-choice - I would worry about a girl this young being pregnant, giving birth, but I would think it wrong to force a termination on her if she really didn't want it.

But given that she doesn't - for heaven's sake, what is this so-called child welfare department thinking about?


I'm glad that in the space of two comments we've spanned the autonomy vs. welfare divide among liberals.

"Florida's department of children and families

Isn't this the same department that has more than once ignored warnings that children under its protection were in danger of being killed by abusive parents/foster parents?

Isn't this the same department that lost a little girl (who, SFAIK, has never been found)?

Isn't this the same state that allows anyone to carry a concealed weapon anywhere they like, and that recently passed a law allowing anyone to use deadly force even if not necessary to save their life?

Looks like Florida fits right in with the RW "culture of life": life begins at conception, and ends at birth.

From account in the Palm Beach Sun, the girl seems the most mature person involved:

"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.

* * * *

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."

Isn't this the same department that has more than once ignored warnings that children under its protection were in danger of being killed by abusive parents/foster parents?

The irony is that the swelling media furore may actually ensure that she and her child, if carried to term, will be cared for: after all, how can one possibly resist the power of a symbol?

All the other children and mothers without media coverage, however...

On NPR a right-to-life advocate was asking about the father, noting that a 13yo is too young to give consent and (I guess) implying the father is a rapist and should be pursued as such.

I think it would be awful to force this child to have a child, but I can see how Florida would disagree about providing abortions to its wards. But why the incompetent state should have a stronger claim to preventing the termination of the pregnancy than an abusive parent escapes me. (I'm assuming that minors can get permission from judges in the state in cases where they can't inform their parents for fear of retaliation.)

I suppose the one good thing you can say about this is that she clearly hadn't been seduced by The Liberal School System into properly using The Evil Birth Control.

As George Carlin pointed out: "if you're preborn, you're great! Once you're born, though, you are f-----!"

Forcing a child to have a baby is abuse, imo. As someone else pointed out, by law she is already the victim of statutory rape. So Florida wants her to have this baby, then is going to take it away from her? That's the most cruel way combination of options.


Thanks for the quotes. She does sound pretty with it, and puts the judge to shame.

My point stands though: the question of her minority has to be settled first. Then, if the court finds that she needs a legal guardian, it must decide in her best interests.

I agree with Jesurgislac that carrying the pregnancy to term is surely not in her best interests. But I am less concerned about the court's finding that she is incapable of making the decision--I think they may be right on that one, no matter how clever of a kid she is. (As long as they don't cite her decision to have an abortion as evidence of her incompetence--that really *would* be unconscionable).

Edward is hunting for an inconsistency in the neighborhood of "it's not possible that she is old enough to carry it to term but not old enough to decide not to".

I find that implausible--it seems to me that we'll agree there is *some* age below which children are incapable of making such decisions--if not 13 then 10? 9? There's no guarantee that one will not find girls ovulating at those ages, alas--for whatever reason, there are more and more cases of premature menarch (possibly obesity-linked, possibly environmental estrogen-mimics, possibly who knows).

So it seems to me that there will be cases where, indeed, Child X is pregnant, but Child X is too young to make decisions about the pregnancy. And in those cases, Child X's guardians should make the decision in the best interests of her welfare.

I *do* think there would be an inconsistency if they were saying she was old enough to become the legal guardian of any resultant child, but not old enough to decide to abort. To that extent, the judge's plans for taking custody after the birth of the child are required by consistency (ugly as it is to go down that road).

What bothers me is the idea that, having assumed the responsibility of deciding what is in the best interests of the child, the court should then make such a gross error about her interests. This cannot be covered by the cloying and obscurantist phrase "erring on the side of life".

I have never met a thirteen year old who was mature enough to make such a decision. From my viewpoint, if someone is considered to be not mature enough to vote, join the army, smoke, drink, or drive a car, then they're mature enough to decide whether or not to get an abortion either.

I know in my home state, this girl could not get her ears pierced without parental consent, let alone an abortion.

If she's qualified to decide whether to bring a life into the world, then she ought to be qualified to enjoy the prerogatives of adulthood. If she's not qualified for them, then you shouldn't bemoan her lack of control over this one either.

Minors have restricted rights because they're not ready to handle the full range of freedoms. The fact that this is abortion, rather, than, say drinking, doesn't change that.

Now, if one willed one's pregancy, then I would say she's not competent to choose to become pregnant either. That's part of why we have statutory rape laws. But given that the barn door is already open, the question of whether she is mature enough to bear the child to term is basically moot from the emotional maturity angle. You might as well ask if someone is mature enough to handle liquor after they already drank 6 beers. (I won't pretend to expertise on whether this is physically dangerous to her, as I don't know. Given my mom's problems at age 32, I'm certainly inclined to err on the side of caution in such things. So if they said having the baby would wreck her body, I'd have to reluctantly accept the necessity of an abortion.)

So, I'd say she isn't competent to get an abortion or to raise the kid. As for bearing the kid to term, it is the only option other than abortion, which I don't think she's competent to choose.

Now, the court could choose that on her behalf; I can only defend that decision from a pro-life perspective, which would just be pissing in the wind, given I doubt we will convince each other of anything.

So, summing up, either she's not competent to choose an abortion, or else we need to revise our laws and change the age of adulthood to a lot younger age than it is now, as, frankly, drinking is a much more minor thing than being able to choose whether or not to bring new human life into this world.

The problem here, as I see it, is that the State is not capable of acting fairly and disinterestedly to protect the child's interests. There's a state law that precludes it from giving consent to abortion, and it has an administration that is actively hostile to both abortion and individual automony, when it conflicts with the 'culture of life.'

Apparently, a Florida minor does not parental consent, and the State does not need to have been involved. Instead, it inserted itself. The judge berated the State for doing little or nothing for the girl while she was on the street, getting pregnant, and only now is stepping in.

If, but only if, there was really some evidence of incompetency would I support the judge's decision to order an independent evaluation. I would except a 13 year old's conclusion that she was in no position to have and raise a child as strong evidence of competence, however. And I guess I am willing to go all the way to Edward's line of consistency: if the State doesn't think she's competent to raise a child -- or might just be possible of being competent to raise a child -- it has no business forcing her to bear it.

I have never met a thirteen year old who was mature enough to make such a decision. From my viewpoint, if someone is considered to be not mature enough to vote, join the army, smoke, drink, or drive a car, then they're mature enough to decide whether or not to get an abortion either.

That's a fine stand in a vaccuum, where you don't have to deal with the outcome of forcing this child to bear a child. I'm curious how you deal with the realworld consequences of this stand though. She will have a child. All this discussion of her not being old enough to drink or vote or whatever won't change the fact that against her will, a child will be forced to go through this pregnancy (and see Jes's comment for the risks to her health) and have a child that will essentially be a ward of the state.

Forgive me, but arguing that she's not competent to make a decision about abortion seems ludicrous given the other factors involved. It's like arguing to a man standing on a ledge threatening to jump that he's not supposed to open the window he did to get out there. Given the overall situation and possible consequences, it's a ridiculous point to make.

Florida is making an example of this child. It's gruesome.

I still think that the central injustice here does not have to do with a violation of the child's autonomy.

When John Biles argues that 13 yo's are not old enough to make the decision, Edward_ replies "That's a fine stand in a vaccuum, where you don't have to deal with the outcome of forcing this child to bear a child."

But that's to assume that if she cannot make the choice, then she will have to bear a child, i.e. that any other ward or guardian who steps in to make decisions for her will decide that she must bear it.

And *there*, not somewhere else, is where we should look for the injustice.

What is unjust here is that an agent or agency specifically charged with looking out for this child's best interests, and with making decisions for her only on the grounds of her best interests, is instead making a decision that is completely contrary to her interests.

It is a classic violation of the duties of a guardian ad litem--it's as though she had a large inheritance, and the judge were deciding on her behalf that she should give it all to him. His degree of malfeasance strikes me as roughly that large. The fact that he can cloak his abuse of this child in pro-life rhetoric does nothing to change the fact that he is obliged to decide only what is best for *her*, not for anything or anyone else.

CharleyCarp says:

"There's a state law that precludes it from giving consent to abortion."

This is a piece of new information in the picture, and if it is right, then this is where the problem begins.

Abortion is legal in FL. I am willing to bet that there have been cases where abortions were performed on 13yo's in FL, at the behest and direction of their parents.

If anyone can direct me to a case where a court intervened to prevent a mother and father from procuring an abortion for their 13 yo daughter, I will be interested to see the grounds (and to hear the right-wing uproar over the state's intervention in the sacred sphere of the family--the normal uproar triggered when it is a *father's* autonomy that is in question).

If no such intervention has occurred, if it is legal for a 13yo to receive an abortion, and legal for a 13yo's parents to arrange one for her, then it should be legal for the judge in this case, standing in loco parentis, to arrange one for her as well.

And since it is clearly in her best interests, it ought to be not merely legal for him to do it, but illegal for him to do anything else.

This is the outcome we get when we agree with John Biles that the child is too young to be granted full majority.

And this is why we *should* stay "in a vacuum" when we try to answer the question about whether she is old enough to decide or not. That is, we should try to figure out that first question without allowing our desire for one outcome or another to force us into an implausible assessment of a 13yo's maturity.

Who makes the decision? Her or a guardian?

What decision gets made? Bear or abort?

Separate questions--and clarity demands they stay separate.

John Biles: So, I'd say she isn't competent to get an abortion or to raise the kid. As for bearing the kid to term, it is the only option other than abortion, which I don't think she's competent to choose.

What that amounts to is: Very much against her will, you intend to force a 13-year-old girl to bear a child to term - which may have permanent effects on her health, and may potentially even prevent her getting pregnant at a later date. Then you intend to forcibly remove the baby from this child's custody.

Sorry, this just looks like plain old child abuse to me. Can you explain how in your mind it's not?

It's not just the physical effects of pregnancy, but the psychological effects of being forced to continue the pregnancy against her will. It would be different if she's a willing actor.
I can't think of an equivalent situation that a male might understand.


I agree that this part of John Biles' analysis, i.e. the part you quote, strikes me as wrong.

Talk of "competence" makes sense with reference to decision-making, majority, minority, autonomy, etc.

Talk of "competence" makes no sense at all with reference to actually *getting* an abortion. Alas, it requires no "competence" to *get* an abortion, however much competence it may take to *decide* to get an abortion--abortions can be performed on people in a coma.

I say she is not competent to decide. JB says she is not competent to *get* one, and that is a very different (and I think nonsensical) claim to make.

Since it is wrong to say "she isn't competent to get an abortion", it also is wrong to say that her bearing a child is the only option left.

And since her getting an abortion *is* still an option (even if her deciding to get one is not), and since it is the option that is most in her own interests, I agree with you that any other course of action is tantamount to "plain old child abuse."

Since she has stated that she is *not* inclined to have the baby, a guardian ad litem should be appointed to allow her to exercise those rights. As others have pointed out, there *are* very good reasons why a 13 year old girl should not give birth, and appointing someone to argue those reasons is, IMO, the duty of the state here, particularly since abortion is a constitutional right and her desire to exercise that right in this case does not seem to be a simple whim of an inexperienced teenager (which seems to be what the court is saying).

Just to be clear, Jesurgislac are you arguing that if she wanted to keep the child, the state should force her to have an abortion?

Sebastian asked: Just to be clear, Jesurgislac are you arguing that if she wanted to keep the child, the state should force her to have an abortion?

Just to be clear, Sebastian, do read the very first comment I made on this thread, at April 30, 2005 11:50 AM. My opinion on that has not changed since then.

Mr. Holsclaw--

This is why I noted in my second post that in this debate Jesurgislac was the champion of autonomy and I was the champion of welfare. I have been arguing all along that the girl's welfare should be the state's guide, and that she was indeed too young to make the decision herself. Jes has had the easy job of arguing that autonomy and welfare coincide.

And you have raised a case in which Jes. and I would diverge: if the girl had expressed a desire to bear the child, when it was clearly contrary to her interests to do it, I would argue that the state should still decide, in light of her best interests, to abort the pregnancy.

(The calculation of best interests *would* be shifted somewhat by her expressing the desire, I agree, but it is not clear to me that it would be shifted decisively over from where it currently stands. I.e., it seems to me that the option of abortion would be slightly *less* amenable to her welfare if she resisted it, but the option of bearing the child would still be disastrous.)

Surely the prospect of a state-mandated abortion when the child is unwilling should arouse a sense of repugnance in all of us. Nevertheless, this seems to me not different in kind from the issues raised, and firmly settled, in various Christian Science cases.

Sometimes children require medical procedures in the interests of their health, and often they are not willing to undergo them. (My son needed almost thirty stitches in his forehead when he as a toddler, and he fought like a very devil on the operating table--he's fine now, but I'm still scarred).

If we really believe that the abortion is better for her, then I do not see why we should treat this any differently from any other medical procedure. When a child does not wish to undergo a necessary treatment, it is nevertheless forced upon the child, as the stitches were forced upon my son, who eventually had to be strapped into a sort of toddler-sized straight-jacket.

Here I believe that Jesurgislac will say that the violation of autonomy is too gross and intolerable. But then this seems to me to place to great a value upon an underformed autonomy, and too little value upon the child's welfare. Remember--I could have made the same decision about my child, too--certainly every fiber of his toddler physique was expressing his preferences loudly enough. I could have quailed, and thereby jeopardized his long-term health.

Parenting is sometimes a frightful business. So is standing in loco parentis. The only excuse for any of it is the hope of producing a healthy adult with the best shot at a good life.

Tad - I am so close to your position, actually.

The health risks to a child that young having a baby are sufficiently high that - if I were responsible for the child - I'd certainly do my best to argue her into having an abortion on those grounds. Only if she remained absolutely convinced that she did not want a termination - and did not want it enough that she was prepared to follow health guidelines to the letter, eating right, exercising right, and getting regular medical checkups - I mean, I'd want to be convinced that her decision against an abortion was real, meaningful, mature, and carefully thought through, not a mere "OMG abortion is murder!1!" teenage angsting. (I think 13 would be young to decide that, but it's not impossible.)

But if she convinced me that she really didn't want an abortion, I'd say she had the right to make that decision for herself.

Then there's the issue about what happens to this child's baby - since absolutely what the girl would need is a loving, caring, supportive family behind her, with parents and other adults to help her look after the child, take legal responsibility for the child (since she'd be too young to be her own baby's legal guardian) and still help her keep going through the educational system.

But, given the real likelihood of damage to her health, and the real likelihood (given where she lives) that this child will neither receive decent health care before the baby is born nor the kind of support she'd need afterwards: given that the child wants an abortion - then my pro-choice feelings meet my concern for the child's welfare in complete unanimity. She wants an abortion: this is very sensible of her.

It's both wrong and stupid of the state of Florida to stand in her way, when they ought to be facilitating the abortion with all speed, if they have any concern for her welfare at all.

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