REPORT: Most Florida Courts Unable to Relay Essential Abortion Information for Young People

Florida county clerks of court are overwhelmingly unprepared to relay essential information about abortion access for young people, according to a new report from If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice. Researchers called local county courts across Florida in order to gauge court staff’s familiarity with the judicial waiver or bypass process — a legal hurdle requiring a young person to obtain a judge’s permission to access abortion care in lieu of involving a parent in their decision. This report comes as anti-abortion politicians in Florida are pushing to increase abortion restrictions in the state by expanding already onerous and unnecessary parental involvement laws that would force a young person to get a parent’s permission before ending a pregnancy.

“Forced parental involvement laws only serve as barriers to abortion. They do not promote family communication and do not protect young people,” says Jessica Goldberg, J.D., If/When/How Senior Attorney Organizing Manager. “If the state of Florida is going to force young people to navigate a judicial waiver process when they cannot involve a parent in their abortion decision, they deserve respect and support when doing so. Florida’s county clerks of court are not currently equipped to provide those things, making access to abortion even more difficult for these young folks.”

Download a copy of our Florida report here.

Young people navigating parental involvement laws in Florida must file for a judicial waiver in the court where they reside, putting youth who live in counties were courts are unprepared to offer information or where court staff are hostile to young people seeking abortion at an even more significant disadvantage. 

“We found that in most counties, court staff are already unprepared to assist young people in complying with the existing law,” says Goldberg. “The judicial waiver process is itself a barrier to abortion, and adding more restrictions is simply an exercise in creating more burdens for young people who must be able to self-determine their reproductive lives without navigating a labrynthine court system where even well-intentioned staff are under- and untrained to offer assistance.”

Researchers telephoned all 67 Florida counties seeking information about the judicial waiver process, and classifying just 11 as “prepared or knowledgeable” about the process. Another 15 counties were classified as “semi-prepared,” demonstrating “a degree of knowledge about aspects of the process, but … unable to provide information sufficient enough to assume a young person would be able to proceed with the information provided.” The remaining 37 Florida counties could offer little or no information about the process, and one court staffer attempted to dissuade the If/When/How caller from choosing abortion.

The Judicial Waiver Process in Florida Courts was authored by Stephanie Loraine Pineiro, MSW, consulting for If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice and Erin Carroll, MPH, with the Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast. 

In 2018, as Florida lawmakers were making yet another attempt to increase restrictions on abortion for young people, Pineiro offered advice for advocates supporting young people navigating the judicial waiver process, telling If/When/How, “In social work practice, the strengths-based perspective is a practical approach that emphasizes people’s self-determination and strengths, viewing clients as resourceful and resilient in the face of adversity. As judicial bypass helpers, we must work with our clients to determine what resources they bring to the table to assist with their case, and to identify the barriers keeping them from obtaining a judicial bypass.”

To download a copy of the report, click here. If you’re a member of the media who’d like to speak with an If/When/How expert on abortion access for young people, please contact us here.