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Bush may seek bill authorizing fetal guardians

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Gov. Jeb Bush might seek legislation this year that would let guardians be appointed for fetuses in cases in which the mother is incapacitated and can't make decisions, a spokesman for the governor said Monday.

Bush's desire to consider legislative options came as Jennifer Wixstrom decided not to appeal the rejection of her appointment as a fetal guardian.

State circuit and appellate courts have denied arguments by Wixstrom, the governor and others that a guardian was needed for the fetus of the woman known as "J.D.S.," a mentally and physically disabled woman who became pregnant by rape.

J.D.S. was raped in late 2002 while living in a state-licensed group home in Orlando. Her daughter was born healthy in August. The 75-year-old husband of the group home's owner was arrested, only to be found incompetent to stand trial. His wife is awaiting trial on a felony charge of negligence.

"The governor believes this was a tragic case and continues to believe that in specific situations like this, it is important and necessary to have a guardian for the unborn child," said Jacob DiPietre, a Bush spokesman. "We will be looking at legislative options in the upcoming session."

Wixstrom referred all queries to her attorney, Edward Jordan, who didn't return a phone call.

Abortion rights advocates have accused Bush and Department of Children and Families Secretary Jerry Regier of pushing the case so guardians for fetuses could be broadly appointed, possibly as a method for preventing abortions. Bush opposes abortion rights.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that appointing a guardian for a fetus is improper.

"It seems that Jeb Bush thinks he is above the highest court in this state," said Evelyn Becker, spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington. "It's part of a larger antichoice strategy to grant embryos and fetuses legal rights independent of the pregnant woman."

On a national level, the House Judiciary Committee has approved the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would make it a federal crime to kill or injure a fetus in an attack on a pregnant woman.

State Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said that even if a bill is narrowly crafted, it's "a slippery slope" toward a broader measure. He said the governor's attentions would be better aimed at 100,000 children on a waiting list for state-subsidized health insurance.

"The administration seems more concerned with providing health care to the unborn than to the kids who actually need it," Gelber said.

Lillian Tamayo, president of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, also said the governor's attentions should be directed elsewhere.

"Bush should be as passionate about assigning guardians to the children languishing in the child welfare system and devote as much energy to the education system as he has dedicated to assigning guardians to a developmentally disabled woman's fetus," Tamayo said.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the group will continue to oppose Bush's effort in the Legislature, just as it has in the courts.

"He just thinks he can't win in the courts," Simon said. "What he's (still) going to do is try and restrict the rights of women to control their reproductive health."

Simon said that if a measure passed in the Legislature, it likely would be unconstitutional.

"We're only going to meet him further down the road in court," Simon said.