Pregnant Women’s Rights Upheld in Florida Court

The Florida District Court of Appeals upheld a pregnant woman’s right to exercise authority over her body late last week in Burton v Florida. Samantha Burton, already a mother of two, was forcibly held in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital at the end of her pregnancy because doctors feared that she would miscarry. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Burton was denied a transfer to another hospital by lower court, but gave birth to a stillborn infant via Cesarean section after three days of being held in the hospital. The court ruled in a 2 to 1 decision that a “patient’s fundamental constitutional right to refuse medical intervention can only be overcome if the state has a compelling state interest.” The ruling found that the hospital had violated Burton’s right to deny medical treatment and her rights to privacy, under the claim that they were promoting the best interest of the fetus. “Such an approach turns on its head well-established standards protecting the right of every adult to make private decisions about their own medical care,” wrote the ACLU and the American Medical Women’s Association in an amicus brief. “Women do not relinquish their right to determine their own medical care when they become pregnant,” said Diana Kasdan, of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. At 25 weeks pregnant, the Court of Appeal did not see Burton’s fetus as a “compelling” state interest, as defined by being “capable of meaningful life outside the womb.” Additionally, when a court does decide an issue is compelling, the decision reads that “the state must then show that the method for pursuing that compelling state interest is narrowly tailored in the least intrusive manner possible to safeguard the rights of the individual.” The court also found Burton was not properly granted legal counsel during the original trial, which violated her Sixth Amendment rights.


ACLU Press Release 8/12/10; Court of Appeal First District, State of Florida ruling on Burton v. Florida; Brief of Amici Curiae ACLU, ACLU Florida and American Medical Women’s Association in Support of Appellant

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