BOSTON, January 19, 2012 ( – After news broke this week that the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) was seeking to force a mentally ill woman to abort her child, the state agency has dug in its heels in the face of widespread outrage, defending its decision in a statement to the Boston Herald this week.

The DMH had filed a petition to have the parents of a 32-year-old mentally ill woman appointed as the woman’s temporary guardians for the purpose of forcing her to have an abortion.

The woman, who is identified in court documents under the pseudonym “Mary Moe,” suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to court documents, she had a psychotic breakdown after a previous abortion and “believed people were staring at her and stating that she killed her baby.” She is also the mother of a son, born after the abortion, who is in the custody of her parents.


Despite the apparent link between the previous abortion and Moe’s mental illness, DMH Commissioner Barbara Leadholm told the Herald the Department believed that a second abortion would be in the patient’s best interest.

“The Department conveyed the request of health-care providers and the parents’ wishes in order to ensure the safety of a patient with severe mental illness,” Leadholm said.

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Norfolk Probate and Family Court Judge Christina L. Harms had ruled in favor of the Department’s petition, ordering not only an abortion but a forced sterilization.

Harms claimed in her ruling that Moe would chose the abortion if she were mentally competent, effectively disregarding the findings of a court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL), who concluded that Moe would have refused an abortion even if mentally sound. The GAL’s conclusion was based in part on Moe’s statements that she was “very Catholic,” and would never have an abortion.

Earlier this week, an appellate court overruled the forced sterilization, noting that it had not been requested by any party, and appeared to have been “produced . . . out of thin air” by Harms.

The appellate court also “vacated” or set aside Harm’s ruling on the abortion, remanding it to another court for an evidentiary inquiry, to determine whether Moe would or would not want an abortion if she was mentally competent.