In March 2009, the Florida 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.
The ACLU first learned about this case after Ms. Burton’s pro bono lawyer called us for help as he pursued an appeal of the court’s order. In August 2009, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, and the American Medical Women’s Association in Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, and we argued in support of Ms. Burton before the same court in January 2010.
Not only is it unconstitutional for the state to override a pregnant woman’s decision about her medical care, 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. 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.