Document Type

Book Chapter

Book Authors/Editors

Seema Mohapatra and Lindsay F. Wiley, eds.


Cambridge University Press, Forthcoming

Publication Date



In March of 2009, Samantha Burton went into labor only 25 weeks into her pregnancy. This is a very serious pregnancy complication that not only risks the pregnant woman’s health, but also greatly reduces her potential child’s chance of survival despite the most aggressive care. Ms. Burton’s doctor prescribed, among other things, inpatient bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy, which would have required her to be separated from her two minor children at home. Ms. Burton found that recommendation unacceptable, and as a competent adult, asked to be discharged or to obtain a second opinion from another hospital. Instead of abiding by Ms. Burton’s request, a court order was obtained that required Ms. Burton to submit to any and all care the doctor believed was “necessary to preserve the life and health of [Ms. Burton’s] unborn child.” Ms. Burton was eventually coerced into a cesarean section, during which the doctor discovered that her child had already died in utero.

Ms. Burton’s case is tragic—she not only endured the trauma of losing her child, but the state’s invasion into her basic autonomy. On appeal, the court overruled the decision, finding that the trial court had used the wrong legal standard in compelling Ms. Burton’s care. As part of the Feminist Judgment Series, Nadia Sawicki adds a vital concurrence to that appellate decision, which would have also overturned the trial court’s decision as unsupported by substantial evidence. Her contribution highlights the need to hold lower courts accountable for avoidable evidentiary errors in addition to legal ones. This commentary provides additional support and context to explain why the trial court’s evidentiary missteps are so important to correct.