- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A woman charged with murder for purportedly refusing a Caesarean section that could have saved her unborn twin said she never imagined having a stillborn child would result in prosecution or national news coverage.

“I feel like I’m getting a lot of attention that [should be] my private business.” Melissa Ann Rowland told the Associated Press during a jail interview Friday.

Prosecutors this week charged Mrs. Rowland with exhibiting “depraved indifference to human life” by avoiding the C-section. One nurse told police Mrs. Rowland said she would rather “lose one of the babies than be cut like that.”

Mrs. Rowland denied claims she avoided surgery because she feared scarring.

“It was all medical concern. None of it was vanity,” she said. Her other two young children, ages 7 and 9, both were delivered by C-section, she said.

Her attorney, meanwhile, said she had a long history of mental illness. The woman said she had attempted suicide twice and spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

Mrs. Rowland, 28, who has been jailed since mid-January on a child-endangerment charge involving the surviving twin, said she was informed of the murder charge Thursday evening by reporters.

Critics of the charges say the case could affect abortion rights and open the door to the prosecution of mothers who smoke, fail to follow their obstetrician’s diet advice or take some other action that endangers a fetus.

“I see this as part of an overall focus of a certain movement on fetal rights and an effort to elevate fetal rights above the rights of a woman,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women and a former prosecutor.

A phone message left at the headquarters for the National Right to Life Committee seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Mrs. Rowland, from the Salt Lake City suburb of West Jordan, was warned numerous times between Christmas and Jan. 9 that her unborn twins were likely to die if she did not get immediate medical treatment, charging documents contend. When she delivered them Jan. 13, a baby girl survived, but her twin, a boy, was stillborn.

Mrs. Rowland was charged with criminal homicide. She said the child-endangerment charge stems from accusations that the surviving baby girl had drugs and alcohol in her system, which Mrs. Rowland denies.

The baby has been adopted by a family Mrs. Rowland knows. Her other children live with her estranged husband’s parents. Mrs. Rowland’s attorney, Michael Sikora, called a C-section major surgery and told the Salt Lake Tribune that “it would come as no surprise that a woman with major mental illness would fear it.”

Prosecutors assert that Mrs. Rowland told a nurse during a January visit to a hospital that doctors wanted to cut her “from breast bone to pubic bone” and she would rather “lose one of the babies than be cut like that.”

Mrs. Rowland denied making the statements but remembers that hospital visit as “very stressful.”

“Doctors there had me very upset,” she said, explaining that she was concerned about her recovery time and the nature of the surgery.

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