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No Ruling in Unprecedented Birth Control Case

April 14, 1992

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ There will be no legal precedent from the case of a convicted child abuser ordered to use a long-lasting birth control implant to avoid a prison term, because the case is moot, a court ruled.

The defendant, Darlene Johnson, has been sentenced to prison for using cocaine, which violated another condition of probation. So, the issue of forcing her to use birth control is no longer relevant, the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal decided in dismissing the case Monday.

Johnson, then 27, was pregnant with her fifth child when she was convicted in January 1991 of beating two of her children.

She first agreed with Tulare County Superior Court Judge Howard Broadman’s order that she use Norplant, a birth control method that the federal Food and Drug Administration had approved a few weeks earlier.

But after consulting with her attorney, Charles Rothbaum, Johnson decided against allowing the use of Norplant. The product consists of five tiny hormone-loaded sticks that are surgically inserted under the skin of the arm to prevent pregnancy for up to five years.

″There is a fundamental right to reproduce,″ Rothbaum told the judge.

Broadman said Johnson lost that right by abusing her children.

The controversial ruling nearly cost Broadman his life when a bullet narrowly missed his head in the courtroom a few weeks later. A farmer and abortion foe, Harry Raymond Bodine, admitted shooting at Broadman and said the Virgin Mary guided his actions.

A jury convicted Bodine of attempted assassination and found him sane. He could receive life in prison without possibility of parole at sentencing May 4.

Meanwhile, Rothbaum appealed the Norplant order, noting that there was no precedent for such an order because the method was so new. He was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, which supports birth control but opposes forcing it on a woman.

After Johnson was sentenced to five years in prison last month for testing positive for cocaine, Rothbaum wrote the appellate court that its decision no longer is needed.

So, Justice Robert Martin signed an order which ended the case without a precedent-setting action. Superior Court rulings in California cannot be used as legal precedents in other cases.

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