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In re Anonymous

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

July 12, 2017

In the Matter of Anonymous, a minor

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         The Alabama Legislature has provided that, generally, an abortion cannot be performed upon a minor without "the written consent of either parent or the legal guardian of the minor." § 26-21-3(a), Ala. Code 1975. The legislature has also provided that a juvenile court may waive the parental-consent requirement in specific circumstances. § 26-21-3(d) and § 26-21-4, Ala. Code 1975.

          In this case, a 12-year-old minor who is in the custody of the Department of Human Resources ("DHR") petitioned the juvenile court to waive the requirement that she obtain parental consent for an abortion. The record shows that the minor had been impregnated by an adult relative while the minor was in the custody of the minor's mother; that the minor had been removed from the custody of the minor's mother by DHR five times; and that the identity and whereabouts of the minor's father was unknown. After hearing testimony from the minor and a DHR caseworker, and after considering other evidence, the juvenile court found that the requirements for waiving parental consent established by the legislature had been met. Under the applicable standard of review, discussed infra, we must affirm the judgment of the juvenile court.

         The facts underlying this appeal are largely undisputed. After the minor filed a petition seeking the waiver of parental consent to have an abortion, the juvenile court issued an order setting the matter for a hearing, appointing an attorney and a guardian ad litem for the minor, and notifying DHR and the district attorney of the county in which the minor was located, as required by § 26-21-4(i), Ala. Code 1975. All those parties participated in the trial on the minor's petition.

         At the time of the trial, the minor was 12 years old and had been pregnant for approximately 13 weeks. The minor's pregnancy was the result of statutory rape committed by an adult relative that occurred while the minor was in her mother's custody.[1] The minor had been living in a home with her mother, her stepfather, her four siblings, and an uncle. The minor learned that she was pregnant after she complained of stomach pain and visited a hospital with her mother. Although the record is not entirely clear, it appears that the minor's mother had become physically abusive after learning of the minor's pregnancy, that law enforcement was contacted, and that the minor and her four siblings were placed in the custody of DHR, pursuant to dependency proceedings.[2] After entering DHR's custody, the minor was taken to another hospital for prenatal care. After the minor indicated that she wanted to end the pregnancy, the minor was referred to a clinic to discuss her options, which included abortion and adoption.

         During the trial, the DHR caseworker involved in the minor's dependency case testified that she had met the minor two weeks before the trial when the minor was removed from her mother's custody. The caseworker testified that the minor's father's identity and whereabouts were unknown, but that he was believed to be living in a Central American country. The caseworker testified that a relative of the minor had been charged with statutory rape related to the minor's pregnancy and that the minor had told the caseworker that she wanted to end the pregnancy. The caseworker testified that she was aware of a history of physical abuse and neglect involving the minor's mother and that this was the fifth occasion that the minor and her siblings had been removed from their mother's custody.

         The caseworker testified that the minor is shy, but that she appears to interact at a normal sixth-grade level, and that no interactions had caused the caseworker concern about the minor's ability to communicate or understand information.

          The minor had just completed the fifth grade at the time of the trial. The minor testified that she speaks both Spanish and English. The minor testified that she was surprised to discover that she is pregnant and that she is "scared." The minor testified that she is too young to have a baby and that she does not want to give birth and place the baby for adoption because she is scared.

         The minor testified that she did not want her mother to be a part of the proceeding or to help her make a decision regarding an abortion and that she and her mother do not have a good relationship. The minor testified that her mother knows of her pregnancy and is mad about it but that her mother told her that the decision regarding whether to have an abortion is a decision that the minor must make. The minor testified that she does not know her biological father and that she understood that he is in a Central American country.

         When asked whether she knew the outcome of an abortion, the minor testified that an abortion will end the pregnancy. The minor testified that she did not know how the abortion procedure is completed or any risks associated with the procedure but that she had received documents relating to those issues from the clinic.

         The juvenile court entered an order on June 27, 2017, waiving the requirement of parental consent. The district attorney filed a notice of appeal to this court on the same day. In 2014, the legislature amended portions of § 26-21-1 et seq., Ala. Code 1975, to, among other things, afford "the district attorney's office, and any guardian ad litem, or the parent, parents, or legal guardian of the minor" the right to appeal in such proceedings. § 26-21-4(n), Ala. Code 1975. At the same time, the legislature also added § 26-21-4(i), which requires the juvenile court, after a petition to waive parental consent is filed, to "immediately notify the district attorney's office of the county in which the minor is a resident, or the county where the petition was filed of the filing of the petition on the day of such filing" and which provides that

"the district attorney or his or her representative shall participate as an advocate for the state to examine the petitioner and any witnesses, and to present evidence for the purpose of providing the court with a sufficient record upon which to make an informed decision and to do substantial justice."

         In its brief to this court, the district attorney acknowledges its limited role in these proceedings, stating:

"The purpose of the District Attorney is to be an advocate of the State, to examine witnesses, to provide the court with a sufficient record, and to assure that the decision of the court does substantial justice. Ala. Code 1975 ยง 26-21-4(i). The District Attorney is neither an advocate for or against ...

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