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Judge’s Prohibition Against Woman Becoming Pregnant Draws National Criticism

Arguing that a court cannot order a woman not to get pregnant, the New York Civil Liberties Union and National Advocates for Pregnant Women today filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of over 40 medical professionals, child welfare and public health organizations, and related experts. The brief encourages the court to reverse a New York Family Court Judge’s order that a mother not become pregnant again, on risk of contempt sanctions, until her other children are out of foster care.

The organizations filed the brief in support of appellant Stephanie P., a homeless woman struggling with drug addiction, who came before the court in proceedings on the placement of her child with a trusted relative. The Court’s order in effect requires her to abstain from sex, use birth control, get sterilized, or seek an abortion in the event of pregnancy in order to avoid violating the order and potentially facing jail time.

Today’s brief was filed by medical and public health professionals who prioritize the protection of the health and well being of children and families. On that basis, the groups object to the dramatic and potentially far-reaching policy implications of the Court’s “no-pregnancy order,” arguing that such a condition sets a dangerous precedent for allowing courts to monitor reproductive choices made by vulnerable groups — particularly low-income people and people of color, who are already disproportionately involved in the child welfare system.

“If the state really wants to protect children, it should ensure ready access to drug treatment for women facing addiction, especially pregnant women — and it should address the problems that poor families face regarding housing, health care, and nutrition,” said Bernadette Hoppe, JD, MPH, president of the New York Perinatal Association, and one of the experts signing the brief. “Threatening a woman with punishment for getting pregnant will only steer her away from getting the medical care she needs, for fear of being detected.”

Dr. Ernest Drucker, professor in the departments of epidemiology, family and social medicine, and psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center /Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who was also a signatory to the brief, said: “Forbidding poor people from procreating is not only unconstitutional, it is a throwback to eugenics arguments made at the turn of the century.”

The brief further argues that the Court’s decision relies on flawed evidence and that the “no pregnancy condition” violates Stephanie P.’s fundamental rights to reproductive decision-making and personal autonomy under state, federal, and international human rights laws.

The signatories’ position aligns them with every leading medical organization to address this issue, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Nurse Midwives, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the March of Dimes. All agree that the problem of alcohol and drug use during pregnancy is a health issue best addressed through education and community-based treatment, not through coercive intrusions by the state.

Amici were represented by Lynn Paltrow and Tiloma Jayasinghe of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Galen Sherwin and Corinne Carey of the New York Civil Liberties Union. A complete list of signatories to the brief appears below.


  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • BirthNet
  • Center for Gender and Justice
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP)
  • Citizens for Midwifery
  • Doctors of the World-USA (DOW-USA)
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • The Family Defense Clinic, Washington Square Legal Services (FDC)
  • Family Justice
  • Family Planning Advocates of New York State (FPA)
  • Feminists Choosing Life of New York (FCLNY)
  • Global Lawyers and Physicians (GLP)
  • Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC)
  • Institute for Health and Recovery (IHR)
  • National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
  • National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR)
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD)
  • National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI)
  • National Institute for Reproductive Health
  • National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH)
  • National Women’s Health Network (NWHN)
  • New York Friends of Midwives (NYFOM)
  • New York State Perinatal Association (NYSPA)
  • National Organization for Women-New York State (NOW-NYS)
  • Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS)
  • Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH)
  • Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region
  • SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective
  • Voices of Women Organizing Project of the Battered Women’s Resource Center (VOW)


  • Katherine Arnoldi
  • Jeffrey Blustein, Ph.D
  • Wendy Chavkin, M.D., M.P.H.
  • Ernest Drucker, Ph.D
  • Fonda Davis Eyler, Ph.D.
  • Barry M. Lester, Ph.D.
  • Paul A. Lombardo, J.D., Ph.D.
  • Howard Minkoff, M.D.
  • Daniel R. Neuspiel, M.D., M.P.H.
  • Robert G. Newman, M.D.
  • Ruth Rose-Jacobs, Sc.D.
  • Barbara Katz Rothman

    Click here to read the brief (PDF).

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