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Defending the Rights of Pregnant Women

Hayley Smith,
Advocacy and Policy Associate,
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August 13, 2010

Phew. Pregnant women can now breathe a little easier. Yesterday, a Florida appeals court held (PDF) that a lower court was wrong to order a woman confined to her hospital bed, against her will, for up to four months, because she disagreed with her doctor’s recommended course of treatment for pregnancy complications.

In January, Samantha Burton’s appeal of her court-ordered bed-rest attracted a lot of attention. The court of public opinion immediately expressed its shock that a court of law had ordered a pregnant woman to remain hospitalized against her will, prevented her from returning home to her two children, and prohibited her from seeking a second opinion by transferring to a different hospital. And, as if that weren’t enough, the court also ordered that Ms. Burton submit to any and all medical treatments and interventions the hospital ordered — including eventually a C-section.

As a “friend of the court” in Ms. Burton’s appeal, we argued to the Court of Appeals that women don’t lose their right to make their own medical decisions simply because they are pregnant.

Not only was the order forcing her to stay in the hospital unconstitutional, its principle also endangers women and babies. Leading medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advise against forcing women to accept treatment or to stay in the hospital against their will because they know it will only drive women away from seeking the care they need. As the medical community has recognized, the state could do far more to help pregnant women and babies by ensuring that all women have access to the full range of medical care needed for a healthy pregnancy.

The court heard this loud and clear. We applaud the 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision affirming the fundamental right of pregnant women to make their own medical decisions. We hope, that as result of this decision, the State of Florida never forces another pregnant woman through an ordeal like the one endured by Ms. Burton.

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