Appeals Court Hears Disabled Woman’s Unborn Child Case

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 21, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Appeals Court Hears Disabled Woman’s Unborn Child Case

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 21, 2003

Dayton Beach, FL ( — A Florida appeals court heard the case of J.D.S. on Thursday. She is a disabled woman who was raped while living in a group home in Orlando and a battle has ensued over whether to appoint a guardian for her unborn child.

Pro-life Gov. Jeb Bush (R), backed by pro-life organizations, urged a judge to appoint a guardian for the baby as well as the woman. When that didn’t happen, Jennifer Wixtrom, who sought the guardianship, sued. She is joined by attorneys representing the Bush administration.

Appeals court judges on Thursday asked tough questions of attorneys seeking a guardian. They questioned whether all pregnant women in the state should be appointed guardians if one is appointed in this situation.

Edward Jordan, the attorney for Wixtrom, told the three-judge panel that a conflict exists when a woman who cannot make her own decisions has a guardian and her unborn child does not.

"But isn’t that conflict apparent in a woman who is healthy and bright, but drinks a lot?" Appellate Judge Emerson R. Thompson asked. "Couldn’t a guardian be important because the fetus is in danger of being abused by fetal alcohol syndrome, or if the mother is a heavy smoker or is overweight?"

Jordan said a guardian is only appropriate in cases where the mother is incapacitated, such as J.D.S., who is mentally disabled.

Abortion advocates attempted to derail the guardianship with similar concerns.

"Let’s not make any mistake here; this case is not about one person," Randall Marshall, legal director for the American Civil Liberties of Florida, said. "If Wixtrom is successful in getting the appointment for the guardian of the fetus in this case, every pregnant woman in the state of Florida is subject to interference by the state into even the most minute details of their life."

In 1989, a Florida Supreme Court ruling said appointing a guardian for an unborn child was "clearly improper."

The judge cited that ruling when refusing to grant the original request for a guardian.

Although the ruling may have no impact on JDS’s baby — she is eight months pregnant and will carry to term — observers say it could have a significant precedent on future cases.