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Pregnant Woman Jailed to Ensure Safe Birth

Aired September 1, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A Massachusetts judge says he ordered authorities to take a pregnant woman into state custody to protect her unborn child. The case raises considerable questions about religious rights, a woman's rights, and the rights of the unborn.

CNN's Boston bureau chief Bill Delaney has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL DELANEY, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The move, a prosecutor said, amounts to nothing less than saving the life of a child. Thirty-two-year-old Rebecca Corneau, member of a religious cult that refuses medical care, now will give birth under lock and key. Confined to a Boston hospital for women serving jail terms for refusing, prosecutors said, court-mandated prenatal exams.

PAUL WALSH JR., DISTRICT ATTORNEY: If there are extreme circumstances, extreme measures such as this, I have to come into -- this isn't something I relish doing.

DELANEY: Only the latest confrontation, though, of the cult and the courts. Eight members of what authorities believe is a 13-member fundamentalist sect have been jailed for contempt for not cooperating in investigations into the deaths of two children. One, a son born to Rebecca Corneau a year ago, a child she says was stillborn, who authorities allege suffocated in the birth canal due to a lack of basic medical care. The other child: that boy's 10-month-old cousin, was allegedly allowed to starve to death last year. Searchers have tried to unearth the bodies, allegedly buried in Maine's remote Baxter State Park.

(on camera): The implications of the court order in Massachusetts, extend beyond an action involving one religious sect, raising the question how far the state should be allowed to intervene in how a woman conducts her pregnancy. Who determines what's best for the unborn?

(voice-over): Authorities resorted to confining Corneau in the state facility after she repeatedly refused court-ordered visits at her home from a nurse, a last resort that still worries some women's advocates.

ANDREA MULLIN, PRES. MASSACHUSETTS CHAPTER, NOW: Where are we going to draw the line here? are we going to start incarcerating woman who drink during their first trimester of pregnancy? are we going to incarcerating women who don't wear their seatbelts when they ride in a car? are we going incarcerate women who smoke during their pregnancy?

DELANEY: Rebecca Corneau's three other children are in state custody, as the newborn will be. Another member of the cult is also pregnant, expected to give birth a few months from now.

Bill Delaney, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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