Judge overturns sterilization order

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has overturned a family court order requiring a 32-year-old women with schizophrenia to have an abortion and be sterilized against her will.

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The family court order, from January 6, stated that the woman could be “coaxed, bribed, or even enticed’’ into the abortion procedure. The order also stated she should be sterilized “to avoid this painful situation from recurring in the future,” though sterilization was not requested by the woman’s guardian.

The appeals court decision said the family court judge “appears to have simply produced the (sterilization) requirement out of thin air,” according to an article in the Boston Globe.

“The personal decision whether to bear or beget a child is a right so fundamental that it must be extended to all persons, including those who are incompetent,’’ the appeals court opinion stated.

In December, the state Department of Mental Health appointed the woman’s parents as her guardians in order to arrange a court-ordered abortion. The woman, who had been hospitalized multiple times for her mental illnesses, described herself as “very Catholic,” and was adamantly opposed to having an abortion.

The family court judge wrote that an abortion would be in the woman’s best interests and, referring to the woman’s opposition to having an abortion, would “not choose to be delusional’’ but for her mental illness.

With the appeals court decision, the sterilization order is dismissed and the family court will hold a new evidentiary hearing for determining whether the woman should have an abortion.

Legal scholars called the case unusual and praised the appeals court decision.

“The sterilization is just mind-boggling. Forced sterilization should never be permitted,” said Ron Honberg, the legislative chief for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in a Boston Herald article. “The decision comes across as very punitive. Punishing someone for the crime of having a mental illness.”