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NYCLU And NAPW Challenge Court Order Banning Poor Woman From Future Pregnancies

The New York Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Rights Project and National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Family Court in Monroe County challenging the Family Court’s order prohibiting a poor woman with children in foster care from getting pregnant again. Citing the woman’s history of drug problems and her poverty, the Family Court stated that this woman’s right to have children was trumped by society’s right not to have to support her children.

“Not only is this kind of order unprecedented in New York, it is far beyond the authority of a Family Court to impose,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “This Court has essentially required that a parent prove she is worthy of procreating-there is no legal authority in New York that gives a court this kind of power.”

The NYCLU and NAPW, representing nine public health, child welfare and human rights advocacy organizations and a leading expert in drug treatment, filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Monroe County Family Court to vacate the pregnancy prohibition. The groups contend it violates the woman’s fundamental constitutional right to privacy and fails to advance child welfare. Specifically, the decision violates her right to procreate under the United States and New York constitutions. The organizations condemned the order as dangerous to the welfare of both women and children. They agreed that this kind of order would not promote child welfare, and in fact would deflect attention from the need for meaningful family assistance services.

According to the organizations, the Court radically reinterpreted longstanding precedent respecting the right to procreate by holding that this right only exists as long as an individual has the financial ability to raise potential children. This financial means test, they argue, not only violates established law but also is disturbingly reminiscent of the arguments used to promote eugenic sterilization and targeted population control efforts. The organizations also argue that the mother’s history of drug use does not justify this extraordinary ruling, particularly because so many of the Court’s assumptions about drug use, and cocaine use in particular, are not supported by scientific research.

“By suggesting that the system has plenty to offer troubled parents when, in fact, it does not, and by offering a seemingly quick fix solution-stop certain people from procreating-the Court is not promoting the interests in children,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, co-counsel on the amicus brief. “The Family Court creates the false impression that services that might actually benefit the family are widely available and easily accessible when in reality they are not.”

Moreover, the organizations object that this extreme and unprecedented order followed a fact-finding hearing at which the woman was not present, nor did she have a legal representative present to represent her interests or to challenge the numerous false assumptions the Family Court relied upon.

Among the organizations and individuals joining the suit as amici are: Child Welfare Organizing Project, Doctors of the World-USA, Drug Policy Alliance, Washington Square Legal Services’ Family Defense Clinic, Feminists for Life of New York, Global Lawyers and Physicians, Robert G. Newman, M.D., Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region, and the Battered Women’s Resource Center’s Voices of Women Organizing Project.

View the Amici brief.

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