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New York judge orders drug-addicted moms to have no more children.

A New York family court judge recently ruled that a drug-addicted woman who has several children in foster care should not be allowed to conceive until she can prove that she can take care of the children she already has. (In the Matter of V.R., No. NN 5616 (N.Y., Monroe County Fam. Ct. Dec. 22, 2004).)

The ruling marks the second time in a year that Judge Marilyn O'Connor has ordered a parent of children in foster care not to conceive. Civil liberties advocates, who have challenged the rulings, claim the decisions unconstitutionally infringe on an individual's right to procreate and recall "shameful" past government-sponsored eugenics programs.

The latest case considered a child neglect charge against a 31-year-old woman whose infant daughter tested positive for cocaine at birth. The mother, identified in court papers only as Judgette W., had already lost custody of four children and parental rights to two others in multiple child neglect hearings dating back to 2000. Two of those children had also tested positive for cocaine at birth.

In a 23-page opinion, O'Connor noted that the mother had failed to attend previous court-ordered substance abuse, mental health, and parenting programs. Finding that Judgette W. "demonstrated repeatedly that she has no capacity to exercise her responsibilities toward her children, including her newest baby," O'Connor ordered that the infant be removed to foster care and that the mother refrain from getting pregnant until she is deemed fit to care for her children.

"It is painfully obvious that a parent who has already lost to foster care all seven of her children born over a 12-yearperiod, with the last one having been taken from her even before she could leave the hospital, should not get pregnant again soon. She should not have yet another child which must be cared for at public expense and without any physical, emotional, or financial help from her, unless and until she has proven herself able to care for her existing children, children who are entitled to their own mother," O' Connor wrote.

This reasoning "reflects very disturbing political currents in this country in which problems that families face are blamed on mothers exclusively," said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) in New York City. "Serious medical, social, and economic barriers for getting help for those problems are completely ignored while we focus on very hateful and superficial descriptions of the mother."

Paltrow said the opinion echoed the reasoning in O'Connor's first no-more-children ruling, handed down last March. In that case, a woman with a history of cocaine abuse who lost four children to foster care based on neglect charges was ordered, along with the father of two of the children, to have no more children until those they had were returned to them. (In the Matter of Bobbijean P., No. NN 03626-03 (N.Y., Monroe County Fam. Ct. Mar. 31, 2004).) Neither parent had appeared in court.

The NAPW and the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation filed an amicus brief in that case--on behalf of 10 public health, child welfare, and human rights advocates--in support of a motion to vacate the ruling.

"This court has taken the unprecedented step of reversing the presumptions of state and federal constitutional law to require that a parent prove she is worthy of procreating," the brief stated. "It sets the stage to permit a kind of government-sponsored population control that is repugnant to the Constitution" and that recalls the "shameful role that U.S. state governments played in advancing certain population-control measures whereby many individuals of color, poor people, and disabled people were sterilized against their will."

O'Connor denied the motion in January. At TRIAL press time, an appeal had not yet been filed.

Paltrow doubts O'Connor's rulings would be upheld on appeal given the longstanding state and federal precedent supporting the right to procreate, as well as the "significant opposition" to the rulings by organizations that promote civil rights, child welfare, and maternal health. "Clearly, [O'Connor is] not advancing child welfare with these cases," Paltrow said.
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Author:Hellwege, Jean
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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