ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Florida NOW Say Appointing a Guardian for a Fetus Threatens the Health and Rights of Pregnant Women in Florida

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
August 21, 2003 12:00 am

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DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Appointing a guardian for a fetus would violate a woman’s right not only to decide whether to continue her pregnancy, but also to choose medical care to protect her own health during pregnancy, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Florida NOW argued before the court of appeal today in a case involving a severely disabled pregnant woman known only by her initials, J.D.S.

“”At every turn the state has neglected J.D.S.,”” said Diana Kasdan, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “”First it failed to protect her from rape, then it failed to detect her pregnancy until she was quite far along, now it wants to appoint a guardian for her fetus and micromanage all medical decisions related to her pregnancy. When will the state start looking out for J.D.S.?””

J.D.S. is an adult with multiple disabilities who became pregnant as the result of a rape that occurred while she was in the custody of a state-licensed group home. The state failed to determine that she was pregnant until she was already at least five months pregnant. She is currently believed to be in her eighth month.

On June 2, a circuit court declared J.D.S. incompetent and appointed a guardian to make decisions on her behalf. At that time, Jennifer Wixtrom, the appellant in today’s case, asked to be appointed guardian for J.D.S.’s fetus. The court denied Wixtrom’s request, noting that “”appointment of a guardian ad litem for a fetus [would be] clear error.””

In late June, J.D.S.’s guardian decided after consulting with doctors that J.D.S. will carry her pregnancy to term; the court approved that plan. Despite that decision, the state still wants a guardian appointed for J.D.S.’s fetus in an unprecedented attempt to control every aspect of her pregnancy, including what pre-natal vitamins she takes, whether she obtains sonograms, and whether she receives anesthesia during delivery.

“”A ruling in this case will affect the rights of all pregnant women in Florida,”” said Bebe Anderson, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights. “”If the court allows this, there is nothing to stop the state from interfering in any pregnant woman’s decisions from whether she has an abortion to what she eats for dinner.””

Since J.D.S.’s pregnancy was discovered, Florida officials and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) have supported efforts to obtain a court-appointed guardian for J.D.S.’s fetus. They filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Wixtrom’s appeal today.

“”This case has been fueled by the political agenda of Governor Bush and DCF,”” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “”From the beginning, they have failed to protect the rights and well-being of J.D.S. and instead have been on a crusade to create an ideological test case that, if successful, would interfere with the private health care decisions that must be made by women and their families.””

Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida appeared before the court today on behalf of the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Florida NOW.

The Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities and the American Association of People with Disabilities also filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing Wixtrom’s appeal.

The case is In re Guardianship of J.D.S., Jennifer Wixtrom, Appellant, Case No. 5D03-1921. Attorneys in the case include Kasdan, Julie Sternberg, and Jaya Ramji of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Marshall of the ACLU of Florida; Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Susan A. England for Florida NOW.

The brief is available online at /node/35388

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