ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, and Florida NOW Fight Efforts to Interfere With Care of Severely Disabled Rape Victim

The state of Florida should stop interfering with a woman's ability to make choices concerning the course of her pregnancy and medical care, said the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Florida NOW, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case involving a severely disabled pregnant woman.

"This woman's health and well-being should be at the center of this case," said Julie Sternberg, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The court has already appointed a guardian for the woman to ensure that her health care needs are fully met. The state's insistence that a guardian be appointed for the fetus jeopardizes the course of this care."

The case involves a 22-year-old woman -- known by the initials J.D.S. -- 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 state failed to determine that she was pregnant until last month, when she was already at least five months pregnant.

On June 2nd, the Ninth Judicial Circuit appointed a guardian for J.D.S. and denied Jennifer Wixtrom's request to be appointed guardian on behalf of J.D.S.'s fetus. The court held that under Florida statutes and case law, "appointment of a guardian ad litem for a fetus [would be] clear error."

Wixtrom has appealed that decision to the Fifth District Court of Appeal and requested expedited consideration. The court is expected to rule on that request this week. The State of Florida and Department of Children and Families have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Wixtrom's appeal.

"The Governor and his DCF chief must cease exploiting this tragic case for political gain," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "They have an obligation to ensure that J.D.S's guardian is able to protect J.D.S.'s health and life; they should not be using this situation as an ideological test case."

"J.D.S.'s legal guardian must be allowed to evaluate her health and other needs and make a decision regarding her pregnancy without interference from the State or a guardian for the fetus," said Bebe Anderson, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

"If third parties are allowed to represent the fetus under these circumstances, there is no logical reason they would not seek to do so in the case of a competent pregnant woman considering an abortion or medical treatment detrimental to her fetus," said Susan England on behalf of Florida NOW.

The case is In re Guardianship of J.D.S., Case No. 5D03-1921. Lawyers on the brief include Sternberg, Diana Kasdan, and Jaya Ramji of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Randall C. Marshall, of the ACLU of Florida, and England on behalf of Florida NOW, Inc.