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Retired Massachusetts Judge Defends Forced Abortion Ruling

A retired Massachusetts judge is explaining and defending a controversial decision to order a mentally ill woman to have an abortion and be sterilized despite her objections.

Christina Harms' ruling was oveturned by an appeals court last month, but the case has come back into the news after Harms, who also retired last month, sent a letter to fellow family court judges explaining her decision and according to The Boston Globe, which first reported the story, criticizing the "appeals court ruling, which she called simplistic and unfair."

At issue here is the case of a woman referred to only as "Mary Moe." As the AP reports, the 31-year-old woman suffered from delusions and schizophrenia and had been pregnant two times before. Her parents, who have custody of one of her children, were asking the judge to declare the woman incompetent "and award guardianship to them for the purpose of consenting to the abortion."

But Mary Moe opposed the abortion saying she was "very Catholic."

Still, Harms ruled that Mary Moe should have the abortion and beyond that she should be sterilized. Obviously, when the case became public, it sparked outrage and plenty of opinions on all sides of the abortion and religious debates.

Harms defended her decision inan interview with NPR member station WBUR. She said the case was difficult and she considered the religious implications as well as the health and safety of Mary Moe.

The interview is truly interesting, so we encourage you to click over to listen to it, but here are some of the highlights:

-- Harms said she evaluated Mary Moe's claim that she was "very Catholic."

"I didn't see any evidence of very Catholic behaviors," she told WBUR. "Things like, for example, going to church, wearing a cross. I didn't think that having premarital sex or sex with multiple partners were very Catholic behaviors. So I tried to look at the evidence from as many places as I could get it to evaluate whether her statement, I am quote 'very Catholic,' really should be taken at face value or should have a more thoughtful analysis. The health and safety of the person was ultimately the single greatest factor for me. These cases are never crystal clear. They involve balancing multiple factors. They're difficult, they're unpopular."

-- WBUR also asked Harms why she went beyond ordering an abortion to ordering a sterilization, which some felt was a draconian measure.

"I struggled for quite some time with whether it would be intellectually dishonest for me to just push the sterilization dilemma aside. But, at the age of 31, Mary Moe being delusional and suffering from schizophrenia and presenting to me, when I interviewed her, as confused, unaware of her circumstances, already been pregnant, now for a third time. I didn't find anything to suggest that she would stop her practice of unprotected sexual activity and I believed that these particular circumstances compelled me to address the question of whether Mary Moe's substituted judgment would be to continue serial unplanned pregnancies, and therefore serial abortions."

Perhaps Harms summed up her decision best in her interview with the Globe.

"I believed then, as I do now, that [Mary Moe] would elect to abort the pregnancy to protect her own well-being," she said. "She would want to be healthy."

As a result of the case, Harms said Boston University decided not to consider her application for a job at the university's law school.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.