Judge orders couple not to have children
Saturday, May 8, 2004 Posted: 9:18 AM EDT (1318 GMT)
ROCHESTER, New York (AP) -- A couple has been ordered not to conceive any more children until the ones they already have are no longer in foster care.
A civil liberties advocate said the court ruling unsealed Friday was "blatantly unconstitutional."
Monroe County Family Court Judge Marilyn O'Connor ruled March 31 that both parents "should not have yet another child which must be cared for at public expense."
"The facts of this case and the reality of parenthood cry out for family planning education," she ruled. "This court believes the constitutional right to have children is overcome when society must bear the financial and everyday burden of care."
The judge is not forcing contraception on the couple nor is she requiring the mother to get an abortion should she become pregnant. The couple may choose to be sterilized at no cost to them, O'Connor ruled.
If the couple violates O'Connor's ruling, they could be jailed for contempt of court.
"I don't know of any precedent that would permit a judge to do this," Anna Schissel, staff attorney for the Reproductive Rights Project of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester. "And even if there were a precedent, it would be blatantly unconstitutional because it violates the United States Constitution and the New York Constitution."
Neither parent attended the proceeding or secured legal representation. The mother waived her right to a lawyer, and the father never showed up in court.
The mother was found to have neglected her four children, ages 1, 2, 4 and 5. All three children who were tested for cocaine tested positive, according to court papers. Both parents had a history of drug abuse. It was not immediately clear if the father had other children.
A case worker testified that the parents ignored an order to get mental health treatment and attend parenting classes after the 1-year-old was born.
The mother was still in the hospital after giving birth to her fourth child in March 2003 when authorities took the infant, according to court papers. Investigators said the mother was unprepared to care for the infant.
Attempts to reach the youngest child's guardian were unsuccessful. Information on the other children's guardians was not immediately available.
Attorney Chris Affronti, who chairs the family law section of the Monroe County Bar Association, said he's not sure how the ruling could be enforced.
"I think what the judge is trying to do is kind of have a wake-up call for society," he said.