She smoked cigarettes during the first six months of her pregnancy and was admitted on a false alarm of premature labor. Her doctor argued she was risking a miscarriage if she didn’t quit smoking immediately and stay on bed rest in the hospital, and a judge agreed.
Three days after the judge ordered her not to leave the hospital, Burton delivered a stillborn fetus by cesarian-section.
And six months after the pregnancy ended, the dispute over the legal move to keep her in the hospital continues, raising questions about where a mother’s right to decide her own medical treatment ends and where the priority of protecting a fetus begins.
“The entire experience was horrible and I am still very upset about it,” Burton said through her lawyer. “I hope nobody else has to go through what I went through.”
Burton, who declined to be interviewed, is appealing the judge’s order. She isn’t asking for money but hopes to keep her case from setting a precedent for legal control over women with problem pregnancies. She also worries it could prevent women from seeking prenatal care.
State Attorney Willie Meggs stands by his decision to seek the court order after being contacted by the hospital. “This is good people trying to do things in a right fashion to save lives,” he said, “whether some people want them saved or not.”
Burton is in her late 20s, has two young daughters and a common-law husband and holds down a blue-collar job, said her lawyer, David Abrams. She didn’t want an abortion, had obtained prenatal care and voluntarily went to the hospital after experiencing symptoms she’d been told to look out for, he said.
But she didn’t like the care she received at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She said her doctor, Jana Bures-Foresthoefel, was brusk and overbearing. Her lawyer said bed rest for difficult pregnancies is a controversial issue because it can cause some complications like blood clots. Abrams said smoking by itself doesn’t cause miscarriages.
The mother said she wanted the option to seek care at another hospital or to go home so she could care for her two daughters.
“I was desperately hoping to receive the care I needed to save my baby,” Burton wrote in her statement. “However, after a few days there, I did not feel I was receiving the care I needed, and instead of being allowed to leave or go to another hospital, I found myself being ordered by a judge to stay at Tallahassee Memorial and submit to all medical care from its hospital staff, whether I agreed or not.”
The doctor and hospital officials declined to comment, referring calls to the state prosecutor.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Diana Kasdan said if the ruling stands it could lead to the state virtually taking over the lives of pregnant women, including telling them what they should or should not eat and drink and what medications they must take.
“It would be a horrible precedent,” Kasdan said.
The state disputes that scenario, arguing Burton’s case is rare – the only one out of 30,000 births in the Tallahassee area over the last 10 years.
Abrams said Burton’s condition didn’t merit such extreme action. Her symptoms were not that unusual, she wasn’t in active labor and the state failed to show why bed rest at Tallahassee Memorial would have been any better than at another hospital or home, he said.
The judge ruled the best interests of the fetus overrode Burton’s privacy rights, but Abrams disputes that. He notes the Florida Constitution, unlike its federal counterpart, has an explicit and strong privacy right, which the state Supreme Court has said guarantees a competent person the right to “choose or refuse medical treatment.”
“If you apply the best interest of the child standard, the woman becomes nothing more than a fetal incubator owned by the state of Florida,” Abrams said.
Ready for that, ladies? I’m not. The state simply does not have the right to keep you in a hospital if you are competent to make your own decisions. Yet the state used power to do just that. You think they won’t when we give them more power?
I don’t see how anyone calling themselves “pro choice” can want to give the government that much control over their bodies.