Feb 9, 2023 - News

Hillsborough County leads Florida in denying abortions to minors

Illustration of a caduceus turning into a gavel.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tampa Bay judges are among those who most frequently block abortions for minors statewide.

Driving the news: Hillsborough County has the highest percentage of denied abortions for young people seeking approval in Florida courts, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday.

  • Statewide, judges denied more than 1 in 8 petitions in 2020 and 2021 for those under 18. In Hillsborough, county judges denied half filed in 2021.

Why it matters: Abortion advocates see these judges as blocking access to necessary health care — which is becoming more endangered in the post-Roe era. Last year, Florida banned abortions after 15 weeks.

  • The report also points out that the approval process is based on arbitrary factors like a patient's grades and demeanor in court.

Context: Health providers cannot provide abortions to minors in Florida unless they receive written consent from a parent or a legal guardian, per state law. Exceptions exist if the health provider believes there is a "medical emergency," Axios' Oriana Gonzalez writes.

  • A minor can petition a "judicial waiver" to go around the parental consent requirement. A court has to find them "sufficiently mature" to let them move forward with the abortion.

Flashback: A state appellate court blocked a 16-year-old in the Panhandle from getting an abortion in August.

The big picture: Around 200 minors try to get abortions through the waiver process in Florida each year, with varying success rates, according to the report.

  • Unlike Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange granted all petitions in 2021.

Between the lines: Even when the requests are granted, the delays caused by the process can make abortion inaccessible, the report points out. And appealing the decision increases the delay.

What they're saying: Margaret Wurth, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report, called on state officials to end what she called the "dehumanizing denial of young people's rights."

  • "No one should have to go before a judge to exercise their human right to access abortion care, and judges should not hold the power to determine a person’s ability to obtain basic health care," Wurth said in a statement.

Of note: Representatives for the 13th Judicial Court in Hillsborough County, the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and the governor's office did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

What we're watching: The Florida Supreme Court has agreed in late January to hear a challenge to the state's 15-week abortion ban, but it's still unclear when that will happen.

  • Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, called on the U.S. Justice Department's Reproductive Rights Task Force to investigate Florida's judicial waiver system for minors as part of its mandate to examine state actions that impair the ability to seek reproductive care in states where abortion is legal.

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