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NYCLU Applauds Appeals Court’s Ruling Striking Down Family Court’s “No Procreation” Condition

The New York Civil Liberties Union and National Advocates for Pregnant Women applaud an appeals court’s recent decision overturning a Monroe County Family Court judge’s order that barred a woman from becoming pregnant.

“The appeals court recognized that it was completely out of bounds for a court to order a woman not to become pregnant,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Allowing the court’s order to stand would have set a dangerous precedent for permitting courts to monitor the reproductive decisions of low-income people and people of color, who are already disproportionately involved in the child welfare system.”

The case concerned a homeless woman, Stephanie P., who was struggling with drug addiction, and came before the Family Court in proceedings on the placement of her child with a trusted relative. In March 2004, Family Court Judge Marilyn O’Conner ordered Stephanie P. not to become pregnant, on risk of contempt sanctions, until her other children were out of foster care.

On appeal, the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Department, ruled that the court “had no authority” to issue such an order, because “a prohibition against reproduction [does not] address the goals of remedying the acts found to have caused the neglect or of safeguarding the well-being of the child.” The court, which announced its decision Friday, also found that the respondent had not had adequate notice or opportunity to contest the order when she failed to appear at a court hearing, because such an order was “unprecedented in this state.”

The NYCLU and NAPW had filed an amicus brief in support of Stephanie P. on behalf of more than forty medical and public health organizations and individuals, arguing that the Family Court had no authority to issue such an order, that it had relied on flawed evidence, and that the “no pregnancy condition” violated Stephanie P.’s fundamental rights to reproductive decision-making and personal autonomy under state, federal, and international human rights laws.

“We are pleased that the court recognized that this coercive order did nothing to protect children or families,” said Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of NAPW. “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.”

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, has recognized 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)
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

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