ORLANDO, Fla. – Gov. Jeb Bush (search) ordered state lawyers Tuesday to seek the appointment of a guardian for the 6-month-old fetus of a mentally disabled woman who was raped, angering abortion rights advocates.
The 22-year-old woman has no family, is too disabled to speak and cannot help police find who raped and impregnated her. Identification of her attacker has been hampered because she is unable to consent to a DNA test.
"Given the facts of this case, it is entirely appropriate that an advocate be appointed to represent the unborn child's best interests in all decisions," Bush said Tuesday in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union (search), along with the National Organization for Women and Center for Reproductive Rights, filed a brief Tuesday asking a court to deny the governor's request. The brief claims such a judgment would go against precedent that a fetus is not a person.
"He ought to be ashamed of himself," said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida. "That he would personally step in and take responsibility to coerce a developmentally disabled rape victim to carry a pregnancy to term."
Bush's decision overrules child welfare officials who said such an appointment would be illegal.
A local Department of Children & Families attorney, citing a state Supreme Court decision that described a guardian for an unborn fetus as "clearly improper," said the state only would seek to have a guardian appointed for the woman.
But DCF Secretary Jerry Regier said he agrees with the governor and has told the department's Orlando office to seek two guardians. He said he had always been under the belief that a guardian would also be appointed for the baby until reading news accounts of the local office's decision.
"My first thought was we need to work on our communication because this is certainly an issue that is somewhat unique," Regier said. "The governor's position and my position has been made clear."
An anti-abortion rights group praised the governor's intervention.
"The unborn child is as deserving of protection as this mother is deserving as protection," said Lynda Bell, spokeswoman for Florida Right to Life (search).