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Rape case fuels debate on guardians

Advocates say a rape victim's plight should focus on the need for guardians, not turn into an abortion debate.

By Associated Press
Published May 29, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Advocates for the mentally disabled said Wednesday an Orlando rape victim's case should focus on the need for guardians and should not turn into an abortion debate.

The advocates, including Rep. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, urged the Legislature to take up the issue when it meets for a special session next month.

"We need to talk about what our commitment is to keeping the most vulnerable people in our society safe," Gannon said.

John Hall, executive director of the Association for Retarded Citizens of Florida, said he wants the Legislature to study the costs and needs associated with providing guardians to mentally disabled adults who have no family to look after them.

His suggestion comes after officials learned that a mentally disabled woman in the Department of Children and Families' care became pregnant after she was raped. Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the agency to seek guardians for the woman as well as her fetus, a position that has drawn fierce criticism from abortion-rights and women's groups.

"As a state we've lost focus," said Tom Buckley Jr., who runs an advocacy group for retarded citizens in Pinellas County.

Lawmakers are unlikely to take the issue up next month, when Bush brings them back to pass a bill designed to control rising medical malpractice insurance costs. The session is expected to last four days. Additional bills can be considered at the call of the governor or if two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to add them.

[Last modified May 29, 2003, 02:00:42]

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