Ben Johnson


Judge defends forced abortion, sterilization ruling against mentally ill woman

Ben Johnson

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, February 22, 2012, ( – The Massachusetts judge who ordered a mentally ill woman to undergo a forced abortion and sterilization is defending her actions, after she says public backlash cost her a job at Boston University.

“I believed then, as I do now, that she would elect to abort the pregnancy to protect her own well-being,’’ former Norfolk Probate Judge Christina Harms told the Boston Globe. “She would want to be healthy.”

Harms ruled on January 6 that a 32-year-old woman, who is described only by the pseudonym “Mary Moe, could be “coaxed, bribed, or even enticed…by ruse” until she was sedated for an abortion, which Moe’s parents sought against her will.

The woman, who told the court she was “very Catholic,” suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  According to court documents, Moe had a psychotic breakdown after a previous abortion and “believed people were staring at her and stating that she killed her baby.”

A court-appointed specialist testified Moe would not choose an abortion if she were well. Citing no evidence, Judge Harms disagreed.

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The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) initially doubled-down on its request for the abortion on behalf of her parents. They subsequently dropped their petition. Judge Judge Gregory V. Roach has sealed the court record.

Harms also ordered Moe sterilized, although no one had requested the procedure. “Certainly, the easy road for me as the trial judge would have been to avoid this topic and I did find this the most difficult part of an unrelentingly difficult decision,’’ Harms wrote. But she said the decision flowed from her “substituted judgment” in favor of the abortion.

Massachusetts Appeals Court Associate Justice Andrew Grainger threw out her sterilization order and remanded the decision over the forced abortion to another court.

Harms has asked to meet with the court’s chief justice, Philip Rapozo, about the decision’s “insulting tone.”

She said after the decision became public, Boston University refused to hire her for a job it was on the verge of formally offering.

“It was the reaction to the decision that gave us pause,’’ admitted BU spokesman, Stephen Burgay. “The more we learned about Judge Harms, the clearer it became that it was the wrong job fit.”

Harms said the university’s action “strikes at the heart of what judicial independence is about.”

Harms was appointed to the bench in 1989 by then-Governor Michael Dukakis. She retired from the bench last month.

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