By failing to ask the court to appoint a guardian for a severely disabled woman who is pregnant as a result of rape, the state of Florida once again abdicated its responsibilities today, placing politics over women's health and well-being, said the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights.
"The state's negligence is part of an ongoing pattern that resulted in the tragic circumstances of this case in the first place," said Julie Sternberg, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The state failed to protect her from being raped, it failed to determine that she was pregnant until she was at least five months pregnant, and now it has once again failed to act in a manner that will ensure that her needs are fully and promptly addressed."
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.
At a hearing today in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) failed to ask the court to appoint a guardian for the woman.
Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for 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 yesterday, announcing that with his support DCF will seek separate guardians for the woman and the fetus. The state did not request either guardian today. As a result, the court decided to extend protective services for the woman for 60 days.
"The Governor and his appointees at DCF are using this tragic case to advance their own ideologies," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. "This case is not a political game. It is about whether or not the state will meet its duty to protect the health and well-being of this woman."
"The State's clear disregard for this young woman is unconscionable," said Bebe Anderson, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights. "She has already survived so much trauma. By refusing to appoint a guardian to ensure her health and best interests, the State is simply continuing the abuse she has suffered."
The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Florida NOW, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case asking the court to deny any petition to appoint a guardian for the fetus.
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.