RENO, NV – A hearing taking place in a Washoe County courtroom is getting national attention. The legal guardians of a mentally disabled pregnant woman are claiming the court wants to force her to have an abortion against her will. As you can imagine this case has tempers flaring, not just as an issue of choice, but civil rights.
Family Court Judge Egan Walker has asked KOLO 8 News Now not to identify the woman at the center of this case out of respect for her privacy. He also expressed concerned that she could become the target of predators in the future if her image was made public. That woman is 32-years-old, but has the mental capacity of a five to seven-year-old. In addition she has a number of physical disabilities related to fetal alcohol syndrome including epilepsy and bipolar disorder for which she takes medication.
One of the unanswered questions before the court is how she got pregnant. She currently lives in a group home and according to testimony she’s been known to disappear for hours or days, sometimes having sex with men at a local truck stop. It’s not known if her pregnancy is voluntarily or the result of rape. It’s also unclear, based on what we heard in court Thursday, whether she wants to keep her child. Her adopted parents, who are also her legal guardians are clearly in favor of that choice.
Representatives for the Washoe County Public Guardian’s office say they never requested an abortion. As a matter of procedure, they requested an investigation into her medical, psychiatric and psychological condition only after her doctor notified the County his patient was pregnant, and her guardians had failed to submit required annual reports. That investigation will also review the appropriateness of her placement in a group home.
Meanwhile, the court heard differing opinions from local doctors. Based on the medications, physical condition, and choices of the mother they were asked if it would be safe for her to carry to term. One expert testifying that there are significant risks for both mother and child. Another doctor argued that all pregnancies and terminations are inherently risky. He also recommended a Caesarean section based on the mother’s mental state.
There is some urgency in this case. The court racing to examine the best options before the mother passes her first trimester when risk factors will increase. She is now 11 weeks into the pregnancy. Still the question remains – if the mother chooses to keep her child regardless of the facts presented, can the court order her to terminate the pregnancy?