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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Florida State Attorneys Ask Court to Appoint Guardian to Fetus

Aired May 14, 2003 - 20:00   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: One of the most contentious issues in America is in the spotlight tonight.
State attorneys in Florida today asked a judge to appoint a guardian for a mentally disabled woman's nearly six-month-old fetus. The woman is pregnant from a rape. And while no one has publicly suggested the fetus be aborted, the case understandably has the attention of activists on both sides of the issue.

Now, though, it looks as if any decision will have to wait.

CNN's Susan Candiotti joins us now with the latest. She is live from Miami.

Susan, good evening.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Anderson.

Yes, the legal battle is just heating up in this one. At a hearing today in Orlando, a state judge agreed to give the state more time to file its motions in this case.

And it's a very troubling one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): In Orlando, Florida, an unidentified rape victim is in the center of a legal firestorm.

Raped, police say, in a group foster home and unable to tell authorities anything about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She unfortunately is a 22-year-old victim that cannot make any decisions for herself. She has the mental capacity of a 1-year-old and that makes it very difficult. She cannot communicate with anyone what it is or what it was that occurred to her.

CANDIOTTI: According to a police report, Florida's embattled child welfare agency only discovered the attack when it learned -- quote -- "the victim had missed her menstrual cycle for approximately three months," and a sonogram revealed that the victim is five months pregnant.

And now Governor Jeb Bush is setting off alarms by urging a legal guardian be appointed for the fetus and another for the young woman. GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: It's a tragic, tragic case and it is appropriate to have someone looking after the rights of the child as well as the mom, and that's our intent.

CANDIOTTI: The American Civil Liberties Union and National Organization for Women are trying to put a stop to the notion of appointing a guardian for the fetus, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to prevent a possible abortion and the governor's actions -- quote -- "cruel and unconscionable."

HOWARD SIMON, ACLU: He, in effect, will be coercing this young woman, who is a rape victim and severely developmentally disabled, to carry a pregnancy to term. That is on the outer fringes of extremism, I think, of the abortion issue.

CANDIOTTI: The Florida Supreme Court has ruled appointing a guardian for a fetus when abortion is a possibility is -- quote -- "clearly improper."

A spokesman for Jerry Regier, Florida's new child welfare secretary, stopped short of calling this a test case but added that's where it might lead.

Meanwhile, investigators are trying to learn who was responsible, and so far have DNA samples from two suspects: the 75-year-old caretaker's husband, and a resident with Downs Syndrome in his 30s.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Governor Bush has said this case is not about abortion rights. But others disagree, and now the case is even more critical because the woman is nearly six months' pregnant, making any decision about this case and what will happen to her even more important as time goes on -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Susan, wasn't there also some disagreement by Florida officials over whether to push for a legal guardian for the fetus?

CANDIOTTI: There was early on. At first lawyers for the child welfare agency, the Department of Children and Families, first said they were only going to try to get the court to appoint a guardian for the woman, not for the fetus.

But then things changed when the matter moved up to Tallahassee. In fact, Governor Bush changed the whole thing himself. As he told CNN today -- quote -- "no mid-level attorney is going to create policy for the state. I'm the governor." -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Tough words. Susan Candiotti, thanks very much.

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