On September 8, 2008, something happened in Austin, Texas, making the local news. Between hurricanes and financial bailouts, there was a front-page newspaper story that went largely ignored by most. Now that the world has finished falling apart, temporarily, I can tell you about a Judge’s ruling that some might say smacks Roe v. Wade.
The Honorable Charlie Baird in Travis County got to do something that a lot of people would probably love to do in one form or another. He “ordered a woman to stop having children as a condition of her probation in her case of injury to a child by omission.” The woman is only 20 and admitted to failing to provide protection and medical care to her baby daughter, less than 2 years old, who was beaten by her father. The baby suffered broken bones among other injuries. The baby’s father was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and both parents relinquished their parental rights.
Although the mother was given 10 years probation, required to do 100 hours of community service, and undergo a mental health assessment, she was also ordered not to have any more children. She apparently did not object to the judge’s ruling at the time. Usually an appeal is based on an objection to a ruling. Without the objection, there are no grounds for appeal to a higher court.
Texas, judges are allowed to set conditions of probation. The defendant gave up her parental rights, and failed to object to the conditions of probation. Without having full facts, like knowing details of her relationship with the father, or knowing how she felt and cared for her baby, should this woman be restricted from procreation as a condition of her probation?
Although the constitution does not specifically say that we have a right to bare children whenever we want, there are apparently numerous court rulings that would suggest we have a constitutional right to procreate. But wouldn’t it be nice once in a while to disallow someone from having children if they are a convicted or known abuser of children? But is that really fair?
The newspaper article I read reports that there was one similar case out of Wisconsin. The facts are entirely different, but the ruling was the same. It related to a father of nine children who was convicted of intentionally failing to pay child support. He was ordered not to have children as a condition of his probation. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld the decision. How many people do you know have either not received or not paid child support?
So here is your homework assignment. Answer these questions, and let me know what you think about this case.
1. Does any Judge have the right to order someone not to have children? If it depends on the circumstances, please explain.
2. Is the judicial branch of the government reaching too far in being allowed to make such a ruling? I.e. is the government’s control of the private lives of individuals too strict?
3. Last. Should such a ruling be reserved for severe cases involving injury and/or death to a child only? Please explain.
This topic conjures up numerous topics and angles. It is really hard to stick to the basic concept of “right to privacy.” As you debate the issue, as I did this evening before writing this, numerous different scenarios come up where a ruling like this could be damning to an unsuspecting and undeserving defendant. We will have to see where the Court of Appeals decides to take this case. Until next time, I look forward to the comments!