Juvenile Court Judge Donald Halstead ruled yesterday that an 11-year-old, allegedly raped on several occasions by a man living in her mother's house, cannot have an abortion because the medical risks exceed those of carrying the baby to term.
Halstead, whose impartiality in the case was questioned because he signed an anti-abortion advertisment in a local paper earlier this year, said the abortion was not in the girl's best interest.
The girl and her 11-year-old younger sister--they are 10 months apart--had been made wards of the court Aug. 20 after Halstead ruled that their mother, who opposed the abortion, was guilty of neglect. They were returned to their mother's custody Sept. 23.
Halstead refused to award custody of the pregnant girl to her father, who favored the abortion, because he is an ex-convict recently released from prison on drug charges.
The attorney representing the girl's father said he would not appeal the decision. An appeal likely would have been fruitless, since the girl's pregnancy is only days shy of the state's 24-week limit for legal abortions unless the pregnant woman's life is threatened.
Nelson Pelletier, the girl's court-appointed attorney, said he was "disappointed. I don't know if I'm going to do anything or not."
Before the decision, as she sat on a couch in a dilapidated brick apartment building, the girl's mother, 32, said:
"Whatever goes on, she's not going to have an abortion. This is too far. That baby is kicking and moving around, and that's life."
The girl, an aqua blouse stretched over her obviously swollen belly, sat very close to her mother as she combed her hair.
"He's nice," the mother said of the judge. "He talked to my daughter off by herself and told her he'd try to help her keep her baby."
"Abortion was out of the question from the beginning," the mother said. "I'm against it. So I feel they've violated my rights as a mother. I feel I should have a right to decide whether [my daughter] should have an abortion or not.
"And anyway, she's almost six months pregnant now. Having an abortion would kill her. I just want those people to bug off and leave me and my babies alone."
The 11-year-old, a shy child, was asked her feelings. "I don't want an abortion," she said quietly. "I don't know why, I just don't. I'm sad, because they keep printing it in the newspaper and stuff."
Opposition to Halstead, 39, a Catholic widely considered to be against abortion, grew increasingly vocal this week. A Kalamazoo children's rights group demanded that he disqualify himself from the case because he endorsed a Mother's Day anti-abortion advertisement published in the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Halstead's critics also charged that his personal feelings about abortion may have contributed to the court's delay in making a decision--meaning the court abdicated its responsibility to protect the child's interests.
When Pelletier first asked Halstead to order an abortion Sept. 23, Halstead decided he did not have such authority. He was overruled Tuesday by a federal judge, who said Halstead had violated the girl's constitutional rights by refusing to rule on the issue.
Pelletier discovered that the 11-year-old was pregnant during child-neglect hearings.
According to police, the girl was raped repeatedly last May, June and July, allegedly by Alvin Zackary, 29, who lived in the apartment with the woman and her two daughters.
The woman said Zackary was not her boyfriend but lived with the family as her "brother." She said her mother informally "adopted" Zackary several years ago.
She also said she had no idea that her daughter had been raped. "She never said anything to me," she said. "He threatened her, [but] she was scared to tell. If I had known, I would have killed him.
Zackary, who was arrested Aug. 5 and charged with assaulting the 11-year-old, is undergoing examination at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti.
"Oh, this is hurting," the mother said. "It's hard to deal with. But we can take care of the baby--[my daughter] knows about babies--and if we need anything, we can go to my brother or sister. I have family here and can get all the help I need."
" . . . If [my daughter] has this baby and then they try to take it away from her, I'll fight."