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Profile: Circuit Court of Leon County
Circuit Court of Leon County was a participant or observer in the following events:
Samantha Burton, a 25-year-old Florida resident in the 25th week of her pregnancy, is told by her doctor that she is at risk of miscarrying her child. The doctor orders her to immediately undertake a program of bed rest. Burton disagrees, saying that as a working mother with two children already, she cannot afford to miss work. She asks for a second opinion. Instead, her doctor informs Florida authorities; the Circuit Court of Leon County summarily forces Burton to be admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital against her will and orders that she undergo whatever procedure her doctor orders. Burton is granted no legal representation in the decision; the forcible hospitalization is imposed after a single telephone “hearing” without a review of her medical records. Burton requests that she be moved to a different hospital, a request denied by the court, which rules that “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” Three days into her forced hospitalization, Burton is forced to submit to an emergency C-section, at which time her fetus is found to have died. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that such a prescription of enforced bed rest does nothing to help prevent miscarriage and premature birth, and does not recommend it. [BabyCenter (.com), 1/2010] Burton, along with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sues the State of Florida, claiming that Florida violated her constitutional rights. Burton and the ACLU argue, “To ignore this fundamental constitutional distinction between the state interest in protecting fetal life and its interest in the protecting the lives and health of people is to risk virtually unfettered intrusion into the lives of pregnant women.” Instead, the court rules against Burton, finding that Florida was merely maintaining what it calls the “status quo,” and that it was forced to intervene in what it calls an “extraordinary” situation. Burton appeals the decision. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The ACLU’s Diana Kasdan writes that the court’s intervention denies Burton “her fundamental right to make her own informed decisions about medical care during her pregnancy.… It is hard to imagine any worse approach to helping pregnant women have safe pregnancies and healthy newborns than the one used by the State of Florida in Ms. Burton’s case.” [Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010]
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