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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Who controls a pregnant woman's body -- her or her doctors?



Mom_pregnant The question is one you hear all the time during debates over abortion: Who controls a pregnant woman's body? Under current law, a woman has the right to make her own decisions about what happens to her body and her baby, right? Surely even Tim Tebow would agree with that, right?

But that's not how a judge in Tallahassee saw it, according to the this story.

Samantha Burton went to a hospital 25 weeks into her pregnancy and was admitted into Tallahassee Memorial Hospital because of complications. Her doctor -- also a woman -- ordered her to immediately quit smoking and stay in the hospital on complete bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Burton disagreed. She wanted to go to a different hospital and get a second opinion.

Instead, with the help of State Attorney Willie Meggs, the hospital asked a judge to force her to stay put.

During the court hearing, Burton had no attorney. She had to try to argue her case over the phone from her hospital bed. Circuit Judge John Cooper decided it was in the best interest of the child for her to remain at the hospital on bed rest. The judge didn't trust her to not smoke or care for herself and the baby.

There is no happy ending here, no bouncing baby who turned out healthy because of the court's actions. Three days after the judge committed her to the hospital, Burton underwent an emergency Cesarean section. Her baby was stillborn.

Now, six months later, Burton has an attorney (handling her case for free) and she's appealing the judge's ruling. Her attorney, David H. Abrams, says his client doesn't want money. She wants to be sure her case doesn't set precedent for other mothers who may someday wind up in the same boat.

Abrams contended that Burton was treated as if she was nothing more than an incubator.  "Does the state own the inside of a woman’s womb, that it can kind of intervene at will?" he asks.

The hospital isn't talking. But Meggs told the Associated Press: "This is good people trying to do things in a right fashion to save lives, whether some people want them saved or not."

I am torn about this case. On the one hand, we all know that smoking and drinking when you're pregnant can put both the baby and the mother at risk. Any Momma-to-be who does it anyway is an idiot. But I also think the hospital, prosecutor and judge treated this woman as if she had no say in her own medical care and that of her unborn child.

If this decision stands, then what's the next step? Will pregnant women get into trouble for not taking prenatal vitamins, eating unpasteurized cheese, or drinking more than one glass of red wine with dinner?  For now, at least, it is still up to the Mommas to decide what's right for her and her baby -- even if a doctor and a lawyer think that she's all wrong.

-- Sherry Robinson

[Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:05am]


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