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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

D.C. May Be Liable for Forcing Disabled to Abort

WASHINGTON (CN) - The District of Columbia cannot subvert 12-year-old claims that it forced mentally disabled patients to have abortions or other elective surgeries, a federal judge ruled.

Three women with "significant intellectual disabilities" sued the city in 2001, claiming that the agency now known as the Department on Disability Services improperly authorized elective medical procedures to be performed on them in violation of their constitutional rights.

"Two plaintiffs, known as Jane Does I and III, had their pregnancies aborted in 1984 and 1978, respectively," U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote.

The plaintiffs in the case, two of whom have since died, are challenging the policies under which the city provided substituted consent to medical procedures for intellectually disabled patents in its care and unable to make their own medical decisions.

In addition to the two abortions, a third women claimed that the district forced her to surgically correct her extropia, a condition in which one eye deviates from other.

Ultimately, the D.C. Circuit vacated an initial injunction that prohibited the district from making such medical decisions for mentally ill patients, and the district moved to dismiss the second amended complaint.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras found last week, however, that questions of law still remain.

"This case involves weighty allegations that have long awaited resolution," Contreras wrote. "For the reasons discussed above, the court concludes that they must remain unresolved somewhat longer, and will therefore deny the District's motion to dismiss."

Though the law has changed somewhat over the years, Contreras ruled that the abortions may have infringed on the women's constitutional rights.

"Like sterilization, compulsory abortion infringes on a woman's right to have children," the decision states. "Although it may be a lesser infringement, it is still a significant one."

Contreras noted a finding from her predecessor on the case that "greater protections may attach to decisions regarding their right to have children."

"And in any case, the court cannot determine the adequacy of the procedural protections provided to Jane Does I and III in the course of determining their incompetency and authorizing their abortions without knowing what those procedures were - information that is not currently before the court," he added.

Jane Doe II's claims likewise survive, according to the ruling.

Jane Doe I is the sole living plaintiff, but the other plaintiffs' estates have kept the lawsuit alive, Contreras noted.

He said that the case will be "brought to a close as expeditiously as the court can fairly manage."

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