ACLU Files Brief Opposing Forced Hospitalization of Pregnant Women

From an American Civil Liberties Union Press Release, August 3, 2009.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Florida
today filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the state’s decision to force a
pregnant woman to remain hospitalized against her will.

"Women do not give up their right to determine the course of their own
medical care when they become pregnant," said Diana Kasdan, a staff attorney
with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. 

"Faced with similar cases,
courts throughout the country have made clear that pregnant women have a right
to make decisions about their own health, including refusing medical care."

According to the ACLU, in March 2009, the Circuit Court of Leon County ordered Samantha Burton – a
mother of two suffering from pregnancy complications – to be indefinitely
confined to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and forced to undergo any and all
medical treatments deemed necessary to save her fetus. After three days of
state-compelled hospitalization, Ms. Burton suffered fetal demise and was
released from the hospital.

"We should all be alarmed by Florida’s wholly unwarranted intervention in
Samantha Burton’s care," said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of

"Not only is it unconstitutional for the state to override a
pregnant woman’s decision to refuse medical treatment, but the medical
community, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
the American Medical Women’s Association, and the American Medical Association,
strongly advises against it."

According to the ACLU’s brief:

"[I]f the decision below stands, it invites
State requests for court intervention in nearly all aspects of pregnant women’s
behavior and medical judgments. In turn, some women will be discouraged from
coming to a hospital for pregnancy care if they know that any disagreement may
lead to forced medical treatment. Such a result does not advance maternal
and fetal health by any measure and is not constitutionally permissible."

The brief in today’s case, Burton v. Florida, No. ID09-1958, was filed in the District Court of Appeal, First District,
State of Florida, on behalf of the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, and the American
Medical Women’s Association.  Lawyers on the ACLU’s
friend-of-the-court brief include Kasdan of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom
Project; and Marshall of the ACLU of Florida.

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  • clydweb

    there’s a rash of this going around…

    In New Jersey…

    and then on the flip side, this couple was acquitted after refusing to provide medical treatment to their daughter (who had already been born) because they believe in faith healing:


    I just find it so fascinating how different the standard is for pregnant women making decisions about their care and their babies care BEFORE birth is called into question, but a woman with her husband make a decision for their child AFTER birth is a whole different ballgame…
    Is it really just because a man was involved in the latter decision? It just boggles my mind.


  • crowepps

    I was curious enough about this to go find the ACLU brief which is available here:


    The crime for which she was deprived of her liberty?

    Additionally, the reported conflict with fetal health in this case – that Ms. Burton did not agree to comply fully with recommendations regarding bedrest and smoking cessation – was not “extraordinary.” To the contrary, it is hard to imagine anything more commonplace than the inability of a mother of two to remain on continuous bed rest, or the well-documented difficulty in quitting smoking. Thus, this was not the type of “extraordinary” or “exceptional” case that medical experts like ACOG and AMA, or other courts, have contemplated as potentially falling within that rarity of “justified” court intervention.

  • invalid-0

    A friend of mine said that unless and until women have total control over their reproductive health including bodily integrity, they will not be full citizens.

    I’m waiting for that day.

    Forced bedrest, forced C sections, forced waiting periods, forced to find a willing pharmacist to fill birth control pill prescription, forced to find funds (if she’s lucky) for an abortion even though she’s on public assistance.

    Face it, we have a ways to go….