By Diana Kasdan, Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
The State of Florida apparently considers confining pregnant women to bed rest "status quo."
You may be wondering if you read that correctly. You did. The State of Florida actually took the position that it is simply maintaining the "status quo" to hospitalize a pregnant woman against her will (instead of allowing her to return home to her two children) and to deny her fundamental right to make her own informed decisions about medical care during her pregnancy.
Yesterday in Tallahassee, the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments in a case involving a pregnant woman — Samantha Burton — confined to a hospital bed, against her will, after disagreeing with her doctor’s recommendations for treating pregnancy complications. I joined Ms. Burton’s lawyer as a "friend of the court" in arguing that the State of Florida had violated Ms. Burton’s constitutional right to make decisions about medical care related to her pregnancy.
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The ACLU first learned about this case after Ms. Burton’s pro bono lawyer, David Abrams, called us for help as he pursued an appeal of the lower court’s order confining Ms. Burton to hospital bed rest. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the State of Florida had stepped in to override the medical decision-making of a pregnant woman — unfortunately we have seen that before. What was even more stunning than in other cases was the unlimited breadth of the court order; the complete lack of any consideration of Ms. Burton’s constitutional rights or health; and the fact that the hearing had gone forward with no legal or other advocate to represent Ms. Burton. After a brief telephone hearing, and no review of her medical records or consideration of a second medical opinion, the circuit court summarily ordered Ms. Burton to submit to any and all medical treatments and interventions — including eventually a C-section — that the hospital’s medical staff deemed appropriate. To top it off, the court ordered her to remain confined on constant bed rest at the very hospital where the disagreement arose, and expressly prohibited her from switching to another hospital.
At yesterday’s argument, Florida defended its request for these measures by insisting that it was a very narrow intervention, for a "short" time, designed to simply preserve the "status quo" until the court could determine the proper course of medical care for Ms. Burton’s fetus.
This view is not only blatantly unconstitutional, it is dangerous. 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. This is immediately apparent to any woman who has ever been pregnant and any person who has ever supported a family member or a loved one through a pregnancy, especially a difficult pregnancy. It is evident to medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, which uniformly oppose the use of coercive measures during pregnancy.
Based on yesterday’s court arguments, we are hopeful that this is equally obvious to the 1st District Court of Appeals.