Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Mother charged with murder after C-section refusal


A mother was in jail on charges of murder Friday after refusing to undergo a Caesarean delivery in a case that reignites America's debate on the competing rights of foetuses and women.

In what was seen as a test of new state and federal legislation expanding the domain of human life, Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, was accused of exhibiting "depraved indifference to human life" for disregarding the advice of doctors to give birth to her twins by Caesarean section.

One of the twins, a boy, was stillborn. The other, a girl, survived and has been adopted. If she is convicted of causing her unborn son's death, Rowland could face life in prison, press reports said.

It was not clear yesterday why she ignored repeated medical advice last winter that the twins were in danger. The prosecution argues it was vanity, and that Rowland told a nurse she did not want a scar.

"This is an individual who knew very well that if she did not get treatment, and did not get a specific treatment at that time, that her child may very likely die," Kent Morgan, the assistant prosecutor, told Utah television station.

However, in an interview with a radio station from prison, Rowland, who denies the charges, was quoted as saying that she had no objections to the surgery, and that the twins were delivered by Caesarean.

"I've never refused a C-section," she said. "I've already had two prior C-sections."

Despite the confusion, the case has become yet another symbol of America's culture wars, a struggle encapsulated by last month's passage in Congress of the unborn victims of violence bill.

The bill, which would make the murder of a pregnant woman a double homicide, is the latest victory for an anti-abortion movement emboldened by the presence in the White House of an ideological ally.

Women's organisations say George Bush's presidency has given new impetus to anti-abortion activists, who have tried to chisel away at women's rights through bills such as this one, and other legislation banning late term abortion.

The legislation on foetal violence has yet to clear the Senate. But the Utah episode, state and federal legislative projects, and a presidential election in November during which Bush will try to shore up his rightwing base have caused trepidation among women's organisations.

"Unquestionably they are relying on the argument that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception," said Lynn Paltrow of Advocates for Pregnant Women.

But she argued: "This leads not to the protection of foetuses but to the arrest of pregnant women. In the United States, citizens including pregnant women have the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment."

According to court documents, Rowland visited several hospitals in Salt Lake City in the weeks before she gave birth because she could no longer feel the foetuses move. At the first, she was advised to turn to two other hospitals for immediate care. But nurse Regina Davis is quoted in the documents as saying that Rowland said she would rather both babies die than go to either of the hospitals.

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