News Law and Policy

Mentally Ill Woman Nearly Undergoes Unwanted Abortion, Sterilization At Judge’s Request

Robin Marty

A judge in Massachusetts was reprimanded for going too far in his decisions regarding a pregnant woman suffering from schizophrenia.

Just as we will condemn those who force women to continue pregnancies against their will, we condemn those who would take away any woman’s right to continue a pregnacny.  Even a judge.

According to ABC News, a Massachusetts judge ordered a mentally ill woman who discovered she was pregnant to have an unwanted abortion, and to be sterilized against her will, as well.

[Family and Probate Court Judge Christina] Harms found the woman would choose to end her pregnancy if she were competent and agreed to appoint her parents as guardians “for the purpose of consenting to the extraordinary procedures of abortion and sterilization,” the Appeals Court said.

The Appeals Court ruling does not identify the woman, who is believed to be about five months pregnant.

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The judge reasoned that if Moe were competent, she would opt for an abortion to benefit from medication that otherwise could not be given to her because of its effects on the fetus.

The Appeals Court said the judge also directed the clinic to sterilize the woman at the same time “to avoid this painful situation from recurring in the future.”

The Appeals court said that the woman, who considers herself Catholic, refused requests to have an abortion, and that no one besides Harms had even brought up the idea of sterilization.

Commentary Abortion

Looking Beyond ‘Whole Woman’s Health’: Challenges Remain in Dozens of States

Thomas M. Gellhaus MD

Even if we are able to celebrate a favorable outcome in the case Monday, the battle for reproductive health will continue in dozens of states across the country.

Read more of our coverage of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt here.

Reproductive health physicians are nervously awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt this week. Rightly so: the outcome of this case will dramatically affect the ability to access safe, legal abortions in Texas, and could extend to other states with restrictions that are similar to HB 2, the law at the heart of the case.

But we also recognize that even if we are able to celebrate a favorable outcome in the case, the battle for reproductive health will continue in dozens of states across the country.

The two provisions of HB 2 before the Court are presented by supporters as improvements to abortion safety and protective of women. But the reality is quite contrary to this. For one thing, abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures; women do not need to be “protected” by politicians.

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For another, the requirements imposed by the lawmandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital and forcing abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center (ASC) standards—do not directly or indirectly have a positive affect on the care provided before, during, or after abortion.

In practice, these targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) requirements only restrict access to abortion. Few clinics have the resources needed to make the costly (and medically unnecessary) updates needed for ASC standards, and physicians can be refused hospital admitting privileges for a wide range of reasons unrelated to the quality of care that they provide.

Instead of improving care, TRAP law restrictions cause clinics to close, and prevent qualified, trained, experienced, dedicated health professionals from providing abortions to patients who need them. Fewer abortion providers means that some will have to wait much longer for their abortions, delaying care until later in pregnancy when the risk of complications—although still small—is increased.

TRAP laws also make abortion completely inaccessible for some women. The reasons can be complicated, involving factors such as geographical limitations, prohibitive cost of travel, and inability to obtain child care or take additional time off work. Regardless of the cause, the result is the same: Abortion restrictions force some women to carry their pregnancies to term, actually exposing them to greater risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth.

Not surprisingly, these laws disproportionately affect low-income women, only heightening the disparities that they already face day-to-day.

Even as our eyes are turned toward the Supreme Court, we must remember that Texans are not the only ones facing restrictions on their ability to access abortion care. Similar TRAP laws have been passed in other states, and in some cases, their implementation will depend on the outcome of Whole Woman’s Health. In addition, lawmakers have adopted a variety of creative approaches to limit abortion access.

In Indiana, state legislators passed a bill that would ban abortion for specific reasons; that law is awaiting judicial review. In Utah, a new law forces doctors to provide anesthesia to the fetus in an abortion performed after 20 weeks, despite there being no medical method for doing so and despite robust evidence that at that stage in development, a fetus does not feel pain. In Kansas and Oklahoma, state lawmakers banned physicians from using the preferred procedure for second-trimester abortion, subjecting women to less-than-standard methods; despite these laws currently being enjoined, five other states have followed suit.

None of these attacks are grounded in medicine, none of them are supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) or the American Medical Association, and unfortunately, none of them would be struck down by a favorable decision from the Supreme Court. Even if access is restored in parts of Texas, advocates cannot rest on our laurels.

OB-GYNs do not have to be abortion providers in order to see the significant effect that an unintended pregnancy can have on overall health and well-being. We do not have to provide abortions ourselves in order to recognize that access to abortion is essential for the patients whom we provide care for every day.

As an OB-GYN and the president of ACOG, I remain hopeful and optimistic that we will see access to abortion restored and protected nationwide. But I urge reproductive health advocates to remain vigilant as state politicians continue to strip away access to care.

News Abortion

Washington Judge: Public Hospitals Must Offer Abortion Care

Nicole Knight Shine

Passed by voter initiative in 1991, the Reproductive Privacy Act says, "The state shall not deny or interfere with a woman's fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion," and that a public hospital may not discriminate against that right.

Public hospitals in Washington state must offer abortion care if they also provide maternity services, a state superior court judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis found that the Skagit Valley Hospital violated the state Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) by failing to employ staff to perform abortions, and instead referred patients to a Planned Parenthood clinic roughly 29 miles away.

Passed by voter initiative in 1991, the RPA says, “The state shall not deny or interfere with a woman’s fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion,” and that a public hospital may not discriminate against that right. The law does not apply to private medical facilities and individuals.

Skagit Valley Hospital, located in northwest Washington and part of the third-largest public district hospital in the state, is licensed for 137 beds, and offers maternity, emergency, cancer, and cardiac care, among other services. In a lawsuit filed in Skagit County Superior Court last year, Kevan Coffey, a licensed nurse practitioner who lives in Skagit County, charged the public hospital with breaking the law by referring patients who seek abortion care to Planned Parenthood.

In the complaint, Coffey said she was “unable to carry a pregnancy to term without facing severe, life-birth defects,” noting, “I personally want to have all options, including abortion, available to me.”

The hospital, however, contended in court documents that it couldn’t find staff to perform abortions.

The judge didn’t buy it, writing in her decision, “In effect, the Hospital District shrugs its shoulders and informs patients that they will have to find that aspect of their healthcare elsewhere.”

Judge Montoya-Lewis continued, “Compliance with the RPA is not aspirational; it is mandatory.”

Tom Ahearne, an attorney for Skagit Valley Hospital, said the hospital board would be meeting Thursday and has not yet decided whether to appeal, as the Stranger reported.

Chris Charbonneau, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, told Rewire that the hospital’s practice of referring patients to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bellingham, Washington, imposed a hardship on patients. She said that about one-third of those seeking abortion care in the state have to drive through two or more counties.

“Hospitals that accept public funding ought to live by the laws of the state that they’re in,” Charbonneau said in a phone interview Wednesday. “When the people of Washington voted for this, they were serious. You don’t just get to ignore the law.”

Washington state and California are among the few states with a Reproductive Privacy Act to guarantee an individual’s right to end a pregnancy.

In a statement issued after the decision, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, which brought the lawsuit on Coffey’s behalf, called the decision “a huge victory.”

“We hope this ruling makes the promise of the state’s Reproductive Privacy Act a reality for all women across Washington state,” Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said.

Coffey said in a statement that she was “pleased that the court has affirmed the right of women to have access to the full range of reproductive health care services.”

Ahearne, who represents the hospital, told the Stranger that hospital leaders “feel stuck between a rock and a hard place,” concerned about breaking the law by requiring doctors to perform abortions.

The hospital had argued that it “cannot affirmatively seek to hire [abortion] providers … nor can it require them to do so.”

But the judge countered that the provision in the RPA that carves out exceptions for those who don’t wish to offer abortion care applies to individuals and private medical facilities, not public hospitals.