- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Jeb Bush has ordered state lawyers to seek the appointment of a guardian for the 6-month-old fetus of a mentally disabled woman who was raped.

Following Mr. Bush’s order on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with the National Organization for Women and the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a brief asking a court to deny the governor’s order. The brief claims such a judgment would go against precedent that a fetus is not a person.

“He ought to be ashamed of himself,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “That he would personally step in and take responsibility to coerce a developmentally disabled rape victim to carry a pregnancy to term.”

A pro-life group praised the governor’s intervention.

“The unborn child is as deserving of protection as this mother is deserving as protection,” said Lynda Bell, spokeswoman for Florida Right to Life.

Mr. Bush’s decision overrules child-welfare officials who said such an appointment would be illegal.

The 22-year-old woman has no family, is too disabled to speak and cannot help police find who raped and impregnated her. Identification of her attacker has been hampered because she is unable to consent to a DNA test.

“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,” Mr. Bush said Tuesday in a statement.

A local Department of Children & Families attorney, citing a state Supreme Court decision that described a guardian for an unborn fetus as “clearly improper,” said the state only would seek to have a guardian appointed for the woman.

But DCF Secretary Jerry Regier said he agrees with the governor and has told the department’s Orlando office to seek two guardians. He said he had always been under the belief that a guardian would also be appointed for the baby until reading news accounts of the local office’s decision.

“My first thought was we need to work on our communication because this is certainly an issue that is somewhat unique,” Mr. Regier said. “The governor’s position and my position has been made clear.”

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