ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights Ask Court to Protect the Health and Rights of a Florida Rape Victim

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights asked a state trial court today to block the state from appointing a guardian for the fetus of a severely disabled woman who is pregnant as a result of rape.

"This is a tragic case. Everything must be done to ensure that this woman's health and interests are served," said Julie Sternberg, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "It is her interests - and her interests alone - that must decide this case."

The case involves a 22-year-old woman who is severely developmentally disabled and under state-licensed care. While living in an Orlando group home, she became pregnant as a result of rape. The woman remains anonymous to protect her privacy.

Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families (DCF) indicated that the agency intended to ask the court to appoint two guardians: one for the woman, the other for the fetus. According to news reports, after learning that the Florida Supreme Court had already ruled that it is improper to appoint a guardian for a fetus, DCF decided to drop the request for such a guardian.

Governor Jeb Bush, however, stepped in earlier today, announcing that DCF will seek separate guardians for the woman and the fetus.

"By seeking the appointment of a guardian for the fetus, Governor Bush and his DCF appointee are simply erecting barriers in the way of what is most important: prompt attention to the care and health needs of this woman," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "The governor's personal agenda and political aspirations are getting in the way of providing for this woman's health and well-being."

"While the state files petitions and changes its position, this woman's pregnancy continues. To flout settled law in the face of her clear needs is simply indecent," said a Bebe Anderson, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Florida NOW, filed a friend-of-the-court brief today asking the court to deny DCF's request. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday, May 14th, in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.

Lawyers on the brief are Sternberg of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Lisa Kuhlman Tietig, cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Florida.