I don’t believe it is, but then, I don’t believe pregnant woman are incubators for the state’s fetuses either. Others disagree, as evidenced in this case unfolding in the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, Fla.
Samantha Burton was in her 25th week of pregnancy in March 2009 when she started showing signs of miscarrying. Her doctor advised her to go on bed rest, possibly for as long as 15 weeks, but she told him that she had two toddlers to care for and a job to keep. She planned on getting a second opinion, but the doctor alerted the state, which then asked the Circuit Court of Leon County to step in.
She was ordered to stay in bed at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and to undergo “any and all medical treatments” her doctor, acting in the interests of the fetus, decided were necessary. Burton asked to switch hospitals and the request was denied by the court, which said “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” After three days of hospitalization, she had to undergo an emergency C-section and the fetus was found dead.
To recap: A doctor made a recommendation to a pregnant patient, the patient told the doctor this recommendation was impossible for her and that she wanted a second opinion. The doctor said no and called the state which confined her to this doctor’s care in this doctor’s hospital against her will, where she was forced to have a c-section three days later and it was found she had already miscarried. Later, the patient brings a lawsuit and the court rules against her, saying the State of Florida was only trying to maintain the “status quo” of confining pregnant women against their wills to be cared for by antagonistic doctors, which is, of course, for the good of the fetus.
Burton’s attorney and the ACLU took the case to a higher court, arguing that the original decision unlawfully expanded the court’s right to “to order medical treatment for a child over a parent’s” objections and applied the precedent to a fetus, which is problematic because the fetus happens to be located inside a sentient being who is objecting the medical treatment being exacted on her person. They further argued that the state dangerously expanded existing laws over the rights of pregnant women, indicating that if left unchallenged it would leave the law open to “risk virtually unfettered intrusion into the lives of pregnant women.”
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… 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.
This situation, and the patriarchal attitudes about women and pregnancy that it springs from, caused Burton immeasurable ills above and beyond the pain that goes with a complicated pregnancy — the court and her care providers erased her personhood, her autonomy, her wishes, and placed her living children and economic livelihood in jeopardy. This ruling also sets a precedent that leaves the next pregnant woman at risk of being held hostage by the state if she doesn’t — or can’t — follow a doctor’s orders at the very time the doctor orders.
Rachel at Our Bodies, Our Blog points out a larger medical issuethat the court has bought into, whether for misogynist, pro-life or pro-corporate reasons, we do not yet know, hospital insurance coverage and the ever-looming fear-of-malpractice-lawsuit excuse that regularly limits medically-assisted birth:
The same values that lead to restricting women’s choices about following medical advice also affects the choices women have in birth. Many hospitals will not allow vaginal births after cesareans or allow women to chose whether they are continuously monitored, implying that the “only thing that matters” is getting a healthy baby at the end, and that the woman’s “experience” does not matter. In such a framework — where women’s desires are readily ignored (and made to seem trivial) –- court intervention with regards to bed rest does not seem extreme. We have already seen cases in which court-ordered cesareans have occurred. In this case — as in abortion and birth choices –- the fetus is prioritized. A woman’s bodily autonomy and preferences for how her pregnant body is treated and used are held secondary to fetal outcomes.
- Pregnant woman ordered by court to be confined in the hospital by Jill August 5, 2009
- Mother’s Day is Over – But Pregnancy Discrimination Isn’t by Guest Blogger May 15, 2013
- Medical Harassment, It Just Makes You Feel Better by Lauren July 22, 2008
- We need the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by Jill March 6, 2013
- Abuse of Pregnant Prisoners Goes Beyond Shackling During Labor by Cara December 17, 2009