Court may force disabled Catholic woman to abort her child
RENO, NV, November 1, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – A disabled woman in Reno, Nevada, may soon be forced by court order to abort her child against her wishes, despite the objection of her parents. A hearing is being held Thursday in Nevada’s 2nd District Court to hear testimony from medical experts in the case.
LifeSiteNews spoke to the woman’s mother, Amy Bauer, and her attorney, Jason Guinasso, about the events that led to the pregnancy and court case.
Elizabeth Bauer, 32, was born in Costa Rica, but adopted with her five siblings and brought to the United States by Amy and William Bauer of Fernley when she was 12. Elizabeth – known to those who care for her as “Elisa” – is disabled as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Her birth mother drank while pregnant, leaving Elisa mentally impaired and prone to seizures. She is said to have an IQ of 42 and a mental age of six.
At age 18, still unable to care for herself, Elisa was entrusted by the court to her parents’ permanent guardianship. They have been responsible for her care ever since, first in their home, then at Chrysalis, a group home for disabled adults in Reno.
The exact circumstances under which Elisa became pregnant are unknown, but the young woman had a history of leaving Chrysalis to visit nearby truck stops and casinos, where she had sexual encounters with men. It is unclear whether these encounters were consensual, although Chrysalis staff suspect she had sex in exchange for money so that she could gamble. The nature of her mental impairment, however, suggests she is unable to legally consent to sex.
Concerned for their daughter, the Bauers worked with Chrysalis employees to try to stop her visits to the truck stops and casinos. They gave her a cell phone with a GPS tracking program, and tried to schedule more frequent home visits and other activities to keep her distracted. At the request of Chrysalis staff, the police opened a file and tried to follow her when she left the facility without a specific, safe destination in mind, concerned that she would forget to take her medication and suffer a life-threatening seizure. But the Bauers could not prevent her from leaving the group home without formally institutionalizing her – an option the family discussed and rejected because state law requires disabled adults to be cared for in the least restrictive environment that meets the needs of their disabilities.
Chrysalis employees notified Elizabeth’s family about her pregnancy as soon as they were aware of it. For the Catholic Bauer family, abortion was not an option, but they also knew Elizabeth would not be able to care for a baby herself. They reached out to their community and quickly lined up at least six families willing to adopt the infant, even if the child has special needs.
When they took Elizabeth to see her neurologist, Dr. William Torch, to find out how her anti-seizure medications might need to be adjusted to minimize harm to the baby, social services, and the court, got involved.
Concerned that she had been sexually abused, Dr. Torch called in Adult Protective Services to question the pregnant woman. Elizabeth’s story, Amy says, was inconsistent. At first Elizabeth said she had not been raped; then she told investigators “I said no, but he did it anyway.”
Soon after, the Bauers were summoned to court without explanation – and without a lawyer.
Amy Bauer says that she and her husband received notice on October 2 that they were to appear in court for an “informal status conference.” The couple assumed it had to do with their Annual Guardianship Report – a required yearly filing which William had prepared, but had not yet notarized or sent in. He sent it that day, and the Bauers appeared as requested on October 9.
That was when they realized the hearing was about much more than late paperwork.
Attorney Jason Guinasso says Judge Egan Walker confronted the Bauers about Elisa’s pregnancy. He asked what they planned to do about it, specifically whether they were considering abortion. When Amy and William told the judge that their Catholic faith prevented them procuring an abortion, Guinasso says the judge was dismissive.
“He said ‘I have inherent authority to [override their wishes] because the court appointed the guardians and they are agents of the court,’” Guinasso said. But Guinasso says that is a misreading of the law.
“There are no statutes that give this Court or Washoe County the authority to compel Elisa to have an abortion,” said Guinasso. “Such decisions are left to the sound discretion of the duly appointed guardians.”
He questioned what would happen if the tables were turned and the parents wanted the abortion. “If Mr. and Mrs. Bauer were abortion minded,” he said, “and decided Elisa should have an abortion, or they had decided to allow Elisa to use contraception and Washoe County Social Services had moral and ethical concerns about contraception or the efficacy of an abortion, neither Washoe County nor this Court would have authority to prohibit the guardians from allowing Elisa from using contraception or undergoing an abortion.”
At the hearing, the court appointed a guardian ad litem to advocate for Elizabeth. Said Amy, “I asked [the judge] what that was, and he said, ‘Oh, that has nothing to do with your guardianship rights. It’s just so that while the court is in session, he can talk to Elizabeth about what her wishes [regarding the pregnancy] are, and do research.’” The judge also appointed an attorney for Elizabeth.
Since then, there have been four more hearings. Amy says Elizabeth’s doctors are pushing for an abortion.
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Amy was horrified. “I tried to switch doctors, but the judge said, ‘No, you can’t do that right now,’” she says. “I never picked these doctors. I thought I had to use these doctors because she was on Medicaid, but apparently not. You can pick any doctor on Medicaid.” Still, says Amy, the judge told her that before she can find new doctors for her daughter, “You have to wait until this is over.”
Elisa’s pregnancy is high risk because infants born to mothers on anti-seizure medication have a higher rate of birth defects than the general population. But the vast majority of epileptic women have healthy babies, says Dr. Michel Czerkes, an OB/GYN at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine. “Monitoring and screening in pregnancy is the recommended course of treatment in pregnancy for a baby who has been exposed to an anti-epileptic medication,” he says, “not abortion.”
At first, Amy says, Elisa was adamant that she did not want an abortion. “I explained to her what an abortion was, and she didn’t say anything. I said, ‘What do you want?’ and she said, ‘I want to have the baby and take care of it.’” When Amy explained that Elisa could not care for a child, Elisa agreed that it would be better if a mother and father took the baby in, as long as she got to see the child sometimes. “I wonder if it’s a boy or a girl,” Amy recounts, her voice breaking.
Amy and William tried to bring Elisa home to keep closer watch over her care during her pregnancy. Again, the judge said no. “They’re trying to limit our contact with her,” Amy tells LifeSiteNews.
She says Elisa is confused since the court process began, and that Chrysalis staff told her that the more the social workers and doctors talk to Elisa, the more upset she becomes.
“Until they started talking to her,” Amy says, “she was very clear that she wanted to have the baby and come home.” Since the court case started, however, “she’s upset and crying…she doesn’t want to go to court. She doesn’t want to talk to anybody anymore.” Amy says she feels as if social services is pushing a pro-abortion view on Elisa, and it’s confusing her daughter.
“I don’t know what they’re telling her,” Amy said, “but I know the result.”
LifeSiteNews.com contacted Deputy District Attorney Dania Reid, who represents the Washoe County Public Guardian, the department responsible for investigating Elisa’s case. Reid denied that the investigation and court hearings are designed to force Elisa to abort her baby. Reading from the court order, she maintained that her clients are investigating Elisa’s “medical and psychiatric, psychological condition, care, maintenance, and placement.”
When questioned about purpose of the investigation, the attorney was silent for 24 seconds.
She then said, “The purpose is to file a report with the court detailing the findings and conclusions regarding the current personal condition of Miss Bauer.”
Asked if the court is seeking to revoke her parents’ guardianship, Reid replied, “That is not what this order says.” As to whether it’s possible that Elisa will be forced to have an abortion against the wishes of her parents, Reid said the court “will be the ultimate arbiter” in deciding the fate of Elisa and her baby.
A court hearing is scheduled for at 2:30 PM PDT on Thursday, during which Judge Walker will begin hearing testimony from medical experts. A second hearing is scheduled for November 6.