Alabama officials are currently seeking to prevent a pregnant prison inmate from obtaining a legal abortion by stripping her of her parental rights, in a case where a lawyer has been appointed to represent the interests of her fetus.
An unnamed woman, who is referred to in court documents only as Jane Doe, is asking for permission to travel to Huntsville to end her pregnancy. She says she was unable to get an abortion before she was taken into custody and is now feeling desperate. “I am very distraught, and do not want to be forced to carry this pregnancy to term,” she wrote.
Jane Doe — who has to get permission from the court to be transported to the nearest clinic because prison officials consider abortion to be a non-emergency procedure — is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” for the state of Alabama to deny her constitutional right to abortion.
Now, as Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly prepares to argue against this request, he is asking the court to strip Doe of her parental rights so that she will no longer have the right to end her pregnancy. In a hearing to determine the outcome of the case, which is expected to be decided by Friday, the state court appointed an attorney — known as a “guardian ad litem” — to serve on behalf of Doe’s fetus.
“It appears to me that what the state is attempting to do is turn Jane Doe into a vessel, and control every aspect of her life, forcing her to give birth to a baby, which she has decided she does not want to do,” Randall Marshall, one of Doe’s attorneys, told the Huffington Post. “The case has certainly moved to this new dimension, but welcome to Alabama.”
Indeed, appointing legal representation to fetuses is not a new area for Alabama. The state has previously provoked national outrage for imposing particularly stringent restrictions on minors who want to end a pregnancy without notifying their legal guardians, which is a situation that typically arises when a pregnant teen doesn’t feel safe confiding in a family member who previously abused her. In these cases, Alabama law requires the teenager to take the stand to argue for her abortion rights — against a lawyer assigned to represent the interests of her fetus.
More broadly, as state officials go to court to defend harsh abortion restrictions from legal challenges, it’s not uncommon for lawyers to argue that these policies are necessary because it’s in the state’s best interest to preserve the life of the fetus. And when states move to prosecute pregnant women for allegedly endangering their pregnancies by using drugs, officials sometimes appoint legal representation for the fetuses but not for the women who carried them.