She's disabled, raped and pregnant, but
Jeb Bush demands, 'Protect the fetus'
By Leslie Feinberg
It's hard to imagine a more vulnerable young
person for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to offer up as a sacrifice to
the ultra-right strategy of abolishing women's reproductive
She is 22 and publicy identified only as JDS. She is
severely developmentally disabled and autistic. JDS lives with
cerebral palsy and seizure disorder. She cannot speak. She
can't stand or take a step without assistance. She weighs only
She has been institutionalized in a small state-licensed
group facility in southwest Orlando for 19 years, where she
reportedly slept on a bed in an open hallway next to a
bathroom. (Orlando Sentinel, May 16)
In April, say officials of the Department of Children and
Families, they discovered she was approximately five months
pregnant. She is unable to consent to sexual intercourse. Her
pregnancy is a result of rape.
Doctors stress that her disabilities are multiple and
severe, making this a high-risk pregnancy that endangers her
In early May, DCF officials asked an Orange County circuit
judge to appoint two guardians--one for the woman, the other
for her fetus. But on May 12, officials retracted the request
for a fetal guardian, acknowledging that a landmark 1989
Florida Supreme Court decision had ruled such an appeal
The very next day, Gov. Bush--who is consistent in opposing
a woman's right to control her own body--publicly intervened.
He ordered state lawyers to fight for one guardian only--for
The National Organization for Women, Center for Reproductive
Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed
a brief asking the court to reject Bush's move.
A June 2 hearing has been set to determine JDS's competency.
Soon after June 2, a guardianship hearing will take place.
There, Bush has vowed to push state officials to ask a judge to
appoint a "guardian" for the fetus.
Pro-choice activists are angered at these attempts to keep
the case moving slowly through the courts. After the sixth
month, an abortion will no longer be a legal alternative in the
Roe vs. Wade in the cross hairs
A decision in this case would not result in the wholesale
elimination of Roe vs. Wade--the hard-won 1973 Supreme Court
decision legalizing abortion.
But it is the use of the courts to make an end-run around
Roe, while avoiding a direct assault on the law that could
ignite mass protests. This reactionary tactic is sharply
focused in Gov. Bush's carefully crafted language.
"Given the facts of this case, it is entirely appropriate
that an advocate be appointed to represent the unborn child's
best interests in all decisions," he said in a May 13
statement. "This is a tragic case about a mom who cannot make
decisions for herself," he said on May 15.
A pregnant woman is not a "mom" until she bears a child. A
fetus becomes a child at birth.
This is the second attempt nationally in recent weeks to set
a legal precedent to establish the "personhood" of a fetus.
In April, Jeb Bush's brother in the White House, plus
members of Congress, tried to manipulate the public horror and
rage generated by the apparent murder of a pregnant woman in
California--Laci Peterson. They used her death to press for
congressional passage of the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act."
This bill would make a fetus a separate "person" from the woman
carrying it--making a fetus the woman's legal adversary.
This legislation would extend to the womb 14th Amendment
protections to life, liberty or property that women themselves
do not automatically have.
It was conservative men, of the same stripe as those now
arguing for legislation to "protect" the fetus, who killed the
Equal Rights Amendment that would have provided equal
protection to women under the law.
One such legislator is Sen. Orrin Hatch, a very conservative
Republican from Utah. Speaking approvingly of the "Unborn
Victims" bill, he said of its critics, "They say it undermines
abortion rights. It does." (BBC News, May 15)
The shocking insensitivity to JDS's body and life also
illuminates conditions for disabled people in this country.
Her potentially life-threatening pregnancy requires careful
monitoring of her health, but even JDS's court-appointed lawyer
doesn't know what kind of care she's getting--if any.
Rod Taylor, her sole official advocate at this point, said
he "doesn't know what kind of medical attention she's receiving
beyond her daily medication and vitamins." (Orlando Sentinel,
Carla Josephson, president of the Orlando-area chapter of
the National Organization for Women, questioned how the state
could provide complete medical care for JDS and other disabled
people if they have no guardians.
"What kind of medical care was she getting all along?"
A month after JDS's pregnancy was confirmed, the state has
still not found her a guardian with the legal power to make
life-or-death decisions--despite a court document stating that
she is in "imminent danger."
Pressed by the Sentinel, officials revealed that JDS is one
of 857 developmentally disabled adults in Florida's
state-licensed group homes who have no legal guardian.
Tallahassee lawyer Lance Block says it doesn't look like the
DCF has learned anything since he represented a developmentally
disabled young woman who became pregnant after being raped in a
state home 12 years ago. The DCF left the woman without a
guardian in the home for three months, near her rapist--the
home operator's son.
But even after the high-profile exposure of the abuse of
JDS, the May 19 Sentinel article concludes, "For now, DCF says
it has no immediate plans to change its rules or call for
changing the law governing its practices."
'Pro-life'? They gotta be kidding!
The right-wing of the national political establishment views
Florida as an ideal battleground to wage war against women's
Its "pro-life" governor helped deliver his anti-choice
brother to the Oval Office by disenfranchising Black
Now the Bush brothers and members of both parties of big
business are pushing to roll back the right to abortion under
the slogan "right to life."
Not JDS's life.
And certainly not the rights of women and children as a
A zealous crusade against lesbians and gays was waged by
orange-juice industry figurehead Anita Bryant in 1977 under the
cynical banner "Save Our Children." The result was a ban in
Florida on lesbian and gay adoption and foster parenting.
The "Scarlet Letter Law," now in the process of being
repealed, was enacted by the state in October 2001, penned by
state Sen. Walter Campbell--a Democrat, it's worth noting. It
required that a pregnant woman of any age who planned to give
up her baby for adoption must pay for ads to publish her name
and descriptions of all her sexual partners over a 12-month
period in the newspaper--even in cases of rape and incest. The
rationale given was that the father would then be able to claim
The right wing's "we care about children" campaign is a
deliberate distraction. It portrays poor women as villains when
in fact they face especially difficult decisions about having
children in this period of dwindling jobs and deteriorating
Politicians from both parties, with the backing of their
right-wing patrons, have succeeded in abolishing welfare, which
offered minimal sustenance to women and children impoverished
under capitalism. After having minimized taxes on the rich,
they claim there's not enough money for programs like Medicaid.
That is already translating into less pre-natal care and
medical access for poor children. Education is on the chopping
block. Day care is less available and priced out of reach.
Many of the social programs important to women were won
during the last period of progressive mass action in the 1960s
and 1970s, when the militancy of the anti-war and civil rights
struggles, along with national liberation movements around the
world, helped spark mass movements for women's and gay
liberation as well. The huge anti-war mobilizations of the past
year, which have been even more diverse than back then, give
promise that a new social movement has begun that can turn back
the right-wing offensive and win new and stronger rights for
Reprinted from the May 29, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
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