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Judge Refuses to Delay Woman’s Sentence So She Can Have Abortion

October 26, 1989

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. (AP) _ A pregnant woman who asked to have her 60-day jail sentence delayed so she could get an abortion was refused by a judge who retorted, ″So you can murder your baby - is that it?″

Pamela Forney, who began her third month of pregnancy this week, asked for a 10-day delay before the start of her sentence for violating probation on a 1987 conviction of driving under the influence.

She said she needed the time because she was scared that when she got out of jail, it might be too late for a safe abortion.

Even though attorneys for both prosecution and defense agreed, Pasco County Judge Dan C. Rasmussen would have no part of it.

″Being pregnant is not going to keep you from doing this jail time,″ the judge said Monday before sending the woman directly to the West Pasco Detention Center.″You want a continuance so you can murder your baby - is that it?″

A sobbing Ms. Forney pleaded with the judge, saying she is financially unable to care for a baby. Rasmussen suggested she carry it full term and then give it up for adoption.

″I thought it was my choice,″ Ms. Forney said in a jail interview Tuesday. ″He’s telling me I don’t have a choice. It’s not right that he can choose for me.″

The decision provoked criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, which moved Thursday to take over Ms. Forney’s defense.

″It’s an outrage,″ said ACLU attorney Charlene Carres in Tallahassee. ″Since when is the penalty for violating probation for DUI a sentence of mandatory motherhood?″

Ms. Forney, a 26-year-old, part-time bartender, doubts that she’ll have a job when she gets out of jail. She said she someday wants children, but only when she can afford them.

″I don’t want to have to go on welfare, and I would have to if I have a baby,″ she said. ″I knew when you went to jail you gave up some rights, but the rights over your own body?″

In a statement, the judge said his personal views on abortion had nothing to do with the sentence imposed.

″It was only after the sentence was approved by the court that the defendant advised her attorney and the court of her condition,″ Rasmussen said. He declined to comment further.

ACLU attorneys were considering whether to file an action contesting the sentence as cruel and unusual punishment, Ms. Carres said.

Ms. Forney was arrested in December 1987 on a DUI charge. In 1988, she was placed on probation, fined $250 and told to pay $100 in court costs and $175 in public defender fees. She also was to perform 50 hours of community service.

She just recently finished the community service, but paid only $100 in her fines, court records show. Her probation violation charge stemmed from her failure to pay.

At Monday’s hearing, the judge asked Ms. Forney why she had not already had an abortion. She said she did not yet have the money. Later, she said she had been saving money and this week’s paycheck would have given her enough.

″He could have given me two or three days,″ she said. ″It doesn’t take long. But now I may have to have a baby because the judge doesn’t believe in abortion.″

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