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A case of state abuse

The Department of Children and Families is overstepping its authority by trying to prevent a girl in its care from having an abortion.

A Times Editorial
Published April 29, 2005


Gov. Jeb Bush's Department of Children and Families is violating a 13-year-old girl's constitutional rights by trying to stop her from having an abortion. The Palm Beach County girl is a ward of the state, but the state cannot force her to become a mother against her will. The courts should move quickly to stop the state from interfering.

Under some twisted logic, DCF claims that it is in the best interests of the teenager known as L.G. to carry a pregnancy to term and become a mother. Yet this is a girl that the state says isn't old enough to care for herself. L.G. is in foster care to escape a neglectful or abusive home, but now she is being abused by the state agency that is supposed to be her protector.

Minors do not need consent from a parent or guardian to obtain an abortion in Florida. The constitutional amendment passed in November only requires minors to give notice to a parent or guardian. L.G. dutifully notified her DCF caseworker of her intention to obtain an abortion. The caseworker in Palm Beach County had scheduled an appointment for an abortion Tuesday and was planning to bring L.G. to the office, according to news reports, but DCF lawyers went to court to stop it.

Palm Beach County Juvenile Court Judge Ronald Alvarez should have thrown DCF's obstructionist suit out of court. The right of minors to choose an abortion was established by the Florida Supreme Court in 1989 when it held that a law requiring parental consent violated state privacy rights. But Alvarez issued a temporary injunction blocking the abortion and ordered a psychological evaluation of L.G., delaying a medical procedure that becomes more risky as each day passes. L.G. is 13 weeks pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Legal Aid Society have appealed Alvarez's decision to the 4th District Court of Appeal. That court should quickly rule that DCF has no authority to stand in L.G.'s way. While a state law says DCF cannot give consent for abortions, that is irrelevant. The girl does not need the agency's permission to exercise her constitutional rights.

This is not the first time under Bush that DCF has followed an ideological viewpoint rather than state law and controlling court decisions. In 2003, the governor unsuccessfully tried to get a guardian appointed for the fetus of a mentally disabled woman who had been raped in a state group home in Orlando. More recently, DCF tried to convince a judge that there were credible allegations that Terri Schiavo had been abused even though its own investigators had dismissed dozens of previous claims. The goal was to take Schiavo into state custody so her feeding tube could be reinserted, and a confrontation between local and state law enforcement officials appeared to be a possibility until Bush backed off and accepted the court's ruling.

DCF looks after the most vulnerable Floridians, and its decisions must be driven by the rule of law, not the governor's personal beliefs or those of the agency's administrators. Minors are not constitutionally required to seek permission to obtain an abortion, and the state has no business interfering with L.G.'s efforts to exercise her right.