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Judge defends order allowing abortion

A retired Massachusetts judge on Tuesday defended her decision to order a mentally ill woman to have an abortion and be sterilized against her wishes, and she blasted Boston University for rescinding a job offer after her ruling sparked controversy.

Christina Harms said she believes the schizophrenic woman would have chosen to have an abortion if she had been mentally competent. In her ruling, she granted a petition from the woman's parents to have their daughter declared incompetent and awarded guardianship to them for the purpose of consenting to the abortion.

The state Appeals Court overturned the decision on Jan. 17.

Now Harms has taken the unusual step of defending her decision publicly, both in media interviews and in a letter she sent Monday to other family court judges in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe first reported on the judge's letter.

Harms, who retired six days before the Appeals Court ruling, said a decision by Boston University's School of Law to back out of a job offer shortly after the Appeals Court overturned her ruling sends the wrong message about judicial independence.

"Being a judge is not like being a contestant on 'American Idol,' " Harms told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "You are not looking for votes."

The woman, 31, has not been named; she was identified in court papers only as "Mary Moe." She had characterized herself as "very Catholic" and said she was opposed to having an abortion. Her parents had said their daughter was not a devout Catholic; they sought consent from the court for an abortion.

Harms said the woman had been taken off some of her anti-psychotic drugs because the medications could have harmed the fetus. After hearing from the woman herself and from her parents, Harms said she found that the woman had severe delusions -- including her belief that she was not pregnant -- and was not competent to decide whether to have an abortion.

BU says it never made a formal job offer to Harms, but it acknowledges that the controversy created by her ruling contributed to the decision to take her out of the running for the job.

In overturning Harms' decision, the Appeals Court used unusually strong language.

The court said no one had requested sterilization and said Harms "appears to have simply produced the requirement out of thin air."

Harms said she based her sterilization order on concerns the woman had had two previous pregnancies and would continue to have unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancies and therefore "serial abortions."