WBUR

Judge Defends Abortion Order For Mentally Ill Woman

Retired Massachusetts Judge Christina Harms, of Weston, is seen at her home Tuesday. (AP)

Retired Massachusetts Judge Christina Harms, of Weston, is seen at her home Tuesday. (AP)

BOSTON — A retired Massachusetts judge is defending her decision to order a mentally ill woman to have an abortion and be sterilized against her wishes.

Christina Harms is also criticizing Boston University for withdrawing a job offer after her ruling sparked controversy and was overturned by the state Appeals Court.

Harms, who retired last month, defended her ruling in a letter she sent Monday to other Massachusetts family court judges, saying she believed the schizophrenic woman — who in court records was identified as “Mary Moe” — would have chosen to have an abortion if she had been mentally competent. The letter was first reported by The Boston Globe.

Harms says BU withdrew a job offer soon after her ruling became public.

BU says Harms was not the appropriate candidate for a job that required interaction with students, alumni and the judiciary.

– WBUR’s complete interview with Harms is below. Reporting above by The Associated Press

Deborah Becker: It seems to me that the appeals court cited two main issues with your ruling. The first was the woman’s religious views. She described herself as very Catholic and opposed to abortion, but her parents were the ones seeking consent for the procedure because she apparently had been pregnant [two times] before and the parents have custody of one of her children. How do you balance something like that as a judge, when you’re trying to make a decision about someone who has mental health issues, but says what her views might be, and then her family’s request?

Judge Christina Harms: You do that with great difficulty. You do that with as much deliberation as you can. I considered such factors as the fact that she had had a previous abortion, the fact that I didn’t see any evidence of very Catholic behaviors. 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.

Now one of the things that the appeals court took issue with was your order that the woman be sterilized after the abortion procedure. Why order that as well?

Well because it certainly was, frankly, the most difficult part of an overall difficult decision. After a great deal of thought, the issue of sterilization seemed to me to be too closely connected to my substituted judgment that an abortion was appropriate for Mary Moe. 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.

Obviously that was the thing that many people felt was a draconian measure to take on the part of a judge.

I think it has to be balanced against the draconian possibility of serial future abortions.

Now, another issue here is that you were in talks with Boston University about a law school job prior to this controversy but then the university eliminated you from consideration after the public criticism of this ruling. Now the university says to The Boston Globe that your ruling gave it pause, and the controversy did give it pause, but there were several things that led hiring officials to conclude that you might not be a good fit for the job. I know you’re concerned about that but isn’t it the university’s or any employer really, isn’t it their prerogative to do something like that, to change their mind after a controversy or something?

Here’s my position, this action by BU law school is exactly the wrong message to teach to budding law students about judicial independence. BU says, quite plainly, that it was the public reaction to my decision that made them revoke the job offer or the job or however they want to phrase it. So, does that mean that judges should consider what the public reaction would be before she hands down a decision? Should I have said to myself, ‘Well if I do what I think is right here, I could lose my job at BU. So I better not do that and do what I think they would want me to do or would give me high approval ratings with the public.’ Being a judge is not like being on “American Idol” and that is an important, important message.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
  • Sisters Keeper

    I have witnessed Judge Harms in her Canton Courtroom and can honestly say that her “retirement” is a blessing to all those who have come before her seeking help and protection for their children. 
    I have seen her re-victimize women, allowing dominant and aggressive abusers to parade themselves around the courtroom; I have seen her disregard concern for children saying, “Well – this is the best we’re going to do,” despite serious concern from GAL’s. 
    I have witnessed this – never experiencing it first hand – glad that I’m from Middlesex County – where abusive personalilites are still recognized as such and not as missunderstood.  I hope that her cases are reviewed and her retirement benefits revoked.     

  • Fern

    This ruling would have been not just about one crazy pregnant woman, it would have been about the government’s right to mandate abortion for “undesirables”. The fact that she apparently does not understand or does not care what a slippery slope this is is cause for serious alarm. I am disappointed to even think BU considered her a good candidate in the first place. Judicial independence is not the same as judicial arrogance, and it is wrong for her to attempt to cling to that rationale for hiring her.

  • Lile

    Having read the appellate court ruling, the former judge’s ruling was unbalanced and draconian. There was no ‘sterilization issue’ before the court, as three appellate judge pointed out, no one requested it, no one argued for it or against it. Judges are supposed to rule based on the law and evidence provided, not ignore the law in favor of their crystal ball. The judge simply decided she could do as she pleased with a woman’s life. It’s disgusting, and when it came to light, it’s not surprising that BU was disgusted. Be pro-choice or pro-life, but to violate a young woman like that transcends abortion. 

  • tootsie

    this judge ruled in my divorce case, i hope to see her in the drive thru at Dunks taking orders

  • Guest

    I have witnessed her as a judge (professionally) and I can say that I’m am glad she “retired”. I have seen her re-victimize women, allow abusers to continue their abuse in the court room, not protected children and also disregard GAL recommendations. She is a disgrace and has ruined enough people’s lives. 

    • Beantown_007

      I was one of those “women” you mentioned. I had the misfortune of coming before her in my divorce case.  she violated several rules of judicial conduct, made sure she gave well below the guidelines for child support ($125 per week for 2 children,)  and went so far as to state in open court that my ex (abusive) husband could bring 20 people to stare in my windows but if my Mother looked at him I would be in contempt.  

  • Guest

    I totally agree with the previous comments. She was incredibly harsh to women in particular in one custody case I witnessed and her rulings seemed to be arbitrary and uninformed. I would like to give her the benefit of the doubt as a women in the judicial system, but I’ve seen her operate first hand and I’m glad she won’t be teaching a batch of young lawyers.

  • Guest

    This judge’s ruling was unpopular because it was deplorable, plain and simple.  And, in all events, judicial independence does not give one the right to a job after they retire from the bench, nor does it immunize a judge from the consequences of a bad decision.  BU can hire or not hire anyone they want, and I aplaud them for this decision.  Forced sterilization when the woman committed no crime, did what nature designed her to do, and the court wasn’t even asked by anyone to order it?  Please.  Why not throw in a pinch of capital punishment – that will really eliminate ”the possiblity of serial abortions.”   This judge should never, ever have been given a robe and has no entitlement to any position of trust and confidence.

  • http://lunatickfringe.wordpress.com/ Frank Blankenship

    Does this ex-judge have no knowledge of the history of eugenics practiced against people in the mental health system in this country. Does she ignorantly have to extend this shameful chapter in American history? This is about right and wrong alright, but the judge is the one who got it wrong. BU did the right thing by withdrawing any job offer it might have held out to her. People have a right to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own lives regardless of whether they have had a psychiatric treatment history or not. Butt out, judge, er, I mean, ex-judge.

  • Questioner

    The comments below indicate why her last name me possibly be very fitting for her.

  • Millrjess

    My mother is schizophrenic and I have Bipolar
    disorder and I am pregnant. Doctors have told me that both my mother and myself
    have an environmental illness and it’s not biological. I have actually been
    before Judge Harms many times and thought she is a strong advocate for
    women and myself before she retired. However, I disagree with her philosophical
    ideologies in this case.

     

    Mental illness is a very treatable disease just
    like Diabetes, which can be managed with therapy and medication.  The woman in question is still very young and may
    have been off medications and psychotic during her pregnancy and interview. She
    may have needed to be stabilized and thinking clearly before making any permanent
    choices about her reproductive future. Did the court deem her incompetent with
    an appointed unbiased legal guardian or was she able to make her own decisions?

     

    Also, was the father of the unborn child and his
    family identified? Not all Schizophrenic women give birth to mentally ill
    children and the father or his family may have volunteered to be caregivers when the child was born.

     

    “The current prevalence estimate is that about 20
    percent of the U.S. population are affected by mental disorders during a given
    year.” http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter2/sec2_1.html

     

    This is a very high statistic and I don’t think the
    solution is forced Abortions and sterilization of women who don’t have a
    “choice” because they may be temporarily unable to make one.

     

    Philosophically, this reminds me of the Holocaust
    and Eugenics. Jews, mentally ill, homosexuals, and people deemed be a burden or
    unfit were sent to the gas chambers. After World War II Nazi Medicine and
    experiments were funded in America by the Rockefellers, which included
    population control of “undesirables” Jews, Italians, Africans, handicapped, and
    mentally ill. Women were sterilized as they may breed more undesirables who may
    be a burden to the economic and social landscape of society. History tends to
    repeat itself and forced abortion and sterilization is taking away a woman’s
    “choice” which entirely undermines feminist theory.

     

    Again, mental illness is a disease that is prevalent
    in 20 percent of the US population and treatable with modern medicine and
    therapy.

     

    Also, many brilliant mentally ill people documented
    throughout history have genius level intelligence and are highly creative. Some
    of these people have special talents and gifts that have benefited society such
    as Artists writers, poets, and scientists. Even Hitler allowed some gifted
    mentally ill musicians and Artists to live. Arthur
    Miller’s Playing for Time

     

    Forced abortion and sterilization is taking away a
    woman’s choice over her own body. This perpetuates the cycle of
    discrimination and stigma for the mentally ill. 

  • Mainlymaidinme

    I read through these comments and I am really disappointed in the free use of terms.  I am disappointed because there is is lack of educated quality to the discussion.   “Eugenics” for example, has no place in the argument.  Eugenics is the cleansing of one sector of society for no other reason but to rid itself of it.  It is a practice that began here in the United States by the very liberal left (called progressives back then) that continues to profess the they are standing up for women by touting their right to have an abortion.  Back then they wanted to erradicate blacks.

    In this case, the woman is seriously mentally ill.  She has a guardian which tells me that she can not care for even her basic needs without serious guidance.   She has given birth and her parents have custody of that child.  We do not know if this child has problems but, I am willing to bet that she will suffer her whole life knowing that he mother can never be a mother to her.  This poor woman is likely medicated with things that cause serious and irreversable side effects to the fetus and without those medications, she has nothing but horror before her until the baby is born. 

    Then there is the social cost.  This woman, under the better case scenarios will likely not work and is likely collecting social security and other benefits.  Her child is likely recieving assistance and if not, it is unexpected and heavy for the grandparents.  If the current child has no problems now, she will likely have them in the future.  Then, if you must look at it from the Eugenic perspective, wiping out Schizoprhenia would be a good thing.  Ask anyone who has it! 

    I see people writing that they have a garden variety of mental illnesses here and they are coping well with this.  However, diagnoses are so over utilized, for no other reason but to pad the pockets of those who give them.  They are often false and only made to give someone access to services or to get insurance companies, including medicaid and medicare, to pay for the time spent with the client.  Most are bull!   The vast majority of people with a true diagnosis of Schizophrenia are not able to parent a child.  Pure and Simple and I am sorry if I have offended anyone but it is the truth. 

    Last, we need to get away from this entitlement mentality that says we have a right to something.   In this and in any case, no one has the right to have a child that they can not provide complete and sole support of.   It is no ones right to expect that society or family even has to pick up the emotional and financial tab because someone lacks the capacity to make good judgments for themselves and their families.   This is not a case where this lady got married or in a relationship and her husband or boyfriend took off and she found herself needing assistance.  This is a case where this lady doesn’t have clue one that she is even pregnant.   Give me a break.  What this judge did was common sense and merciful for all parties concerned.

    • SB

      “Eugenics is the cleansing of one sector of society for no other reason but to rid itself of it.” Because the ones doing the cleansing believe society is better off without them, which seems to be exactly what you’re saying about schizophrenics and their children. There’s a difference between “wiping out schizophrenia” and wiping out schizophrenics. Forced sterilizations and abortions for the mentally ill is discrimination against a class of persons and is, at LEAST in part, an attempt to prevent bringing more people into this world who will be mentally ill.

      I dated the son of a schizophrenic, and let me tell you – as much as he would have liked for his mother not to have suffered the way she did, he loved her as much as you love your own mother (maybe more, considering your apparent callousness toward your fellow human beings). And if he had the chance, he wouldn’t have changed her, despite the quirkiness and craziness that the medication didn’t reach. He and his four sisters loved her exactly the way she was. We all did.

      And he is very glad she gave him life. All of her children are. As am I. As is his wife. As will their child be when he’s older. But you would have had him and his sisters aborted, because YOU don’t think a schizophrenic is “able to parent a child.” And you know what else, I’m not talking some white collar woman with a wealthy husband who managed to get her children to adulthood because she had means. They weren’t well off. Life was hard. But my ex was better for it. His mother loved him, and was a mother to him. He learned lessons about life that you obviously didn’t learn from your parents. And good thing we have people like him to be an example of love to people like you and this judge who live atop some self-righteous pedestal making judgments on who should be sterilized and who should be aborted.

      You obviously don’t have any loved ones who suffer from mental illness. They aren’t less human just because they don’t fit into your little box of what makes a good parent, or what makes a life worth living. You disgust me just as much as that judge. And you’re wrong.

  • Thedents3

    I am so glad to see this woman off the bench.  Her OPINION has ruined many children’s lives including mine.  Her Opinion left my two little girls with an abusive father and left me without my daughter’s in my life for over 4 years.   She is very biased and unpredictable in her rulings as they are based on opinion not the law.

  • anonymous

    Someone should look at court records and see how much time this judge spent “deliberating” on this difficult case. I gaurantee she didn’t spend any time. That’s how this judge behaved in court. She believed she was God. Judge Judy spends more time hearing what people have to say in court about petty issues than what this judge would allow in court about serious issues that involve young children and families. Often she would say “I don’t need to hear anything. I have made up my mind”. She was a cruel joke and a travesty to justice. I am so happy to hear that she is now facing the wrath of the press and the judicial system. Very validating!

  • anonymous

    I absolutely agree with the last post. I saw it firsthand. I was stunned that she refused to listen to anything and made decrees in the case that were harmful to the children she was supposed to protect. How she got as far as she did I’ll never know, but it’s a blessing that she’s off the bench.

  • J_hubenthal

    The fallout experienced by Harms is generous. 1. She had no authority to make any ruling regarding Mary Moe’s body, or her baby’s. 2. Since when do judges make decisions based on future, if likely, non-criminal behavior that the judge simply does not like? This retired judge should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and abuse of authority.

Most Popular