Utah judge sentences woman for refusing Caesarian

A judge has sentenced a Utah woman to 18 months probation for refusing a Caesarean section that doctors said would have saved her stillborn baby.

Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, was ordered by Salt Lake County District Judge Dennis Fuchs to move to Indiana, where she has family and friends and where she will undergo mental health treatment.

The woman was originally charged with criminal homicide because police said she repeatedly refused to have surgery that would save one of her twins, a son, because she said she feared being scarred by the operation.

Rowland, who has a history of mental health problems, delivered twins on 13 January. The other child, a girl, survived, but suffered from respiratory distress. The girl was later adopted.

Prosecutors said that, after they learned of the woman's history of mental health problems, they reduced the homicide charge to two charges of child endangerment for using cocaine while pregnant. She pleaded guilty to those charges earlier this month.

The judge also ordered her to take parenting classes and said that, if she ever decided to have more children, he hoped she would do a better job than she did with the twins.

But he also took note of her history of behavioural and psychological problems, saying it was a "shame" that people with problems do not receive proper treatment. "It's a travesty that we can't deal with people like Ms Rowland," he said.

Women's groups were critical of prosecutors for charging the woman with a criminal offence.

"The charges of homicide were so far off the mark, if it wasn't so tragic it would be laughable," Lorna Vogt, a member of the Utah Progressive Network, a women's group, who has visited Rowland in prison, said after the hearing took place.

Deputy district attorney Robert Stott said prosecutors originally believed the homicide charge was justified.

"We were convinced at the time we filed the charges that they were appropriate. The information that we now have was learned after the charges were filed," Stott said.

If Rowland does not perform the requirements of the probation order, including doing 100 hours of community service, she could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

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