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Disability Law

Appeals Court Overturns Judge Who Ordered Sterilization for Schizophrenic Pregnant Woman

Posted Jan 18, 2012 8:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Massachusetts Appeals Court has overturned an order by a now-retired probate judge who authorized an abortion for a schizophrenic woman and decided sua sponte that she should be sterilized.

The appeals court reversed the sterilization order and called for a new evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether the woman, identified by the pseudonym Mary Moe, would have an abortion if she were competent. The Boston Herald and the Boston Globe covered the Jan. 17 opinion.

The family court judge, Christina Harms of Norfolk, Mass., had appointed Moe’s parents as her guardians on Jan. 6 so they could consent to an abortion, according to the appeals court opinion. Harms said Moe could be “coaxed, bribed, or even enticed … by ruse” to the hospital for the procedure.

Harms also decided sua sponte and without notice that Moe should be sterilized "to avoid this painful situation from recurring in the future." According to the appellate opinion, “No party requested this measure, none of the attendant procedural requirements has been met, and the judge appears to have simply produced the requirement out of thin air.”

Moe had testified she is “very Catholic” and would never have an abortion. However, she also denied that she is pregnant, asserted she had previously given birth to a girl named Nancy and had met the judge before. She had not met the judge and she previously gave birth to a boy, not a girl, who is being cared for by her parents. Moe has been hospitalized several times for mental illness. She is estimated to be up to five months pregnant.

Harms retired on Jan. 11, according to the Boston Herald. A Harvard law graduate, she is a former general counsel to the state Department of Social Services.

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