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Judge Ruled Mentally Ill Woman Should Get an Abortion, Sterilized

Judge Ruled Mentally Ill Woman Should Get an Abortion, Sterilized “Mary Moe,” a mom with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia in Massachusetts, hasn’t had a great past few months. In October, she showed up at a local hospital emergency room and was found to be pregnant. Mary Moe is on medication for her psychiatric concerns. Doctors who examined her in the E.R. concluded that taking her off the medication would be risky for her, given her pregnancy.

But unlike a lot of people with psychiatric disorders, Mary Moe apparently didn’t have the same freedoms you and I take for granted. Such as the freedom to decide what to do with our own bodies.

Or whether to give birth if we’re pregnant.

In Mary Moe’s case, the state Department of Mental Health intervened on behalf of Mary’s parents. They filed a petition to have the woman’s parents named as guardians. Why?

So the parents could give their consent for an abortion.

Then it got even more scarier when the case ended up in a local Massachusetts courtroom and the judge sided with the parents. And went one step further…

Mary Moe (a pseudonym) has been pregnant twice before. In the first pregnancy, she had an abortion. In the second she gave birth to the boy. The boy is now in her parent’s custody.

According to the report in The Boston Globe, at some point “between her abortion and the birth of her son, she had a “psychotic break’’ and has since been hospitalized numerous times for mental illness, court records say.”

Once you get into the public mental health system in this way, things can go downhill quick when it’s not just your life in the balance.

Norfolk judge Christina Harms, now retired, had to decide this gut-wrenching case. I would assume she might take into account Mary Moe’s wishes about wanting to keep the baby:

[Mary Moe] described herself to court officials as “very Catholic,’’ and said she would never have an abortion. When asked about an abortion at a December hearing, she replied that she “wouldn’t do that.’’

So what did Judge Harms rule?

[…] Harms ruled that the woman was not competent to make a decision about an abortion, citing “substantial delusional beliefs,’’ and concluded she would choose to abort her pregnancy if she were competent.

The woman would “not choose to be delusional’’ if competent, Harms ruled, and would choose to have an abortion “in order to benefit from medication that otherwise could not be administered due to its effect on the fetus.’’

Seems like a stretch, but… wait a minute… Did the judge just ignore the person’s own wishes about keeping their baby? What do delusional beliefs have to do with wanting or not wanting a baby??

But here’s where it gets a little crazy…

Unbidden, the judge further directed that the 32-year-old woman be sterilized “to avoid this painful situation from recurring in the future.’’

Huh?? So not only does the judge suggest the person get an abortion — something Mary Moe doesn’t want but something her parents do — but then she further suggests that she get sterilized.

She ordered that the woman’s parents be appointed coguardians to give their consent to the abortion and sterilization. The parents, who have custody of the woman’s son, believe that terminating the pregnancy is in their daughters’ best interests, according to court records.

The case was thankfully kicked up to a higher court upon appeal, were perhaps more reasoned minds prevailed.

But the appeals court concluded that Harms improperly decided the matter of the woman’s competence, and noted that a court-appointed specialist had determined that the woman would “decide against an abortion if she were competent.’’ Without conducting a hearing, Harms found the specialist’s report inconclusive.

And that sterilization order? Thankfully gone.

In sharp words, yesterday’s decision also denounced the sterilization order, a directive that several legal specialists said they had not heard of in recent memory.

“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,’’ wrote Appeals Court Judge Andrew Grainger.

Here’s the real kicker though… This is just the one story we know about because the records — which are usually sealed — were unsealed on appeal. In most state cases where this sort of thing is decided, you’ll never hear about it.

It goes on every day in the U.S., hundreds of times a year.

The reason for a judge to be involved in the process in the first place is to ensure the rights of the patient are being protected. In this case, sadly, it doesn’t appear the judge took them into account as much as she should have.

These cases are rarely black and white, but in this case at least, it appears the judge overstepped her boundaries and made significant, life-impacting decisions with little regard for the freedom and rights of the individual. Let’s hope by showing the spotlight on this case, it helps to — if not prevent future abuses — at least make others think twice.

Read the full article: Court strikes decision for mentally ill woman’s abortion

Judge Ruled Mentally Ill Woman Should Get an Abortion, Sterilized

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Judge Ruled Mentally Ill Woman Should Get an Abortion, Sterilized. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 19 Jan 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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