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Judge puts reproductive rights case on hold

Woman’s guardian seeks contraceptive implantation

HOLLIDAYSBURG — The guardian of a 25-year-old woman with intellectual disabilities is asking a Blair County judge to order reimplantation of a birth control device to keep the woman from becoming pregnant.

The question surfaced Wednesday when Judge Timothy M. Sullivan allotted seven days for attorneys representing the guardian and the woman to submit legal authority, relevant court rulings and arguments in support of their positions.

It will be up to Sullivan to decide if he wants to schedule a court hearing in the reproductive rights case.

The woman’s guardian, represented by attorney Stephen D. Wicks of Altoona, filed a petition in late March seeking a court order for reimplantation of a birth control device that would require a general anesthetic.

While the woman used to have a contraceptive device in her arm, the petition states that Altoona physicians removed it Aug. 17, 2020, at the woman’s request.

In support of the petition, Wicks advised the court that he notified those physicians, in a Jan. 19, 2017, letter, that they did not have the authority to remove the device without consent of the woman’s guardian at that time.

He also included a June 25, 2016, letter from Dr. Khadia M. Phillip, who described the woman as lacking capacity to make her own health, safety and financial decisions, thereby warranting appointment of a guardian.

The woman’s current guardian, appointed in De­­cember, acknowledged that the woman has expressed a desire to conceive.

But according to the petition, the current guardian maintains that the woman lacks “the intellectual capacity to appreciate the consequences or risks of that act, and does not have the ability to care for a child.”

Because of her intellectual disability, the woman requires “significant support” to live in her own apartment, according to the guardian’s petition.

Upon receiving the petition in late March, Sullivan signed an order designating time on Wednesday’s court schedule to address the matter. He also named Altoona attorney Maryann Joyce Bistline to represent the woman in the matter.

Both Bistline and the woman were in court Wednesday, but neither had a chance in court to address the matter.

Instead, Sullivan met in his chambers with Wicks and Bistline, then entered the courtroom and issued the order granting the attorneys seven days to render documents in support of their positions.

National organizations representing those with intellectual and developmental disabilities have acknowledged an ongoing debate within their communities regarding reproductive and parenting rights.

An October study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Boston University’s School of Public Health found that women with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a greater risk of pregnancy complications. It also found that those women were often subject to biases and preconceived notions about their inabilities to parent.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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