In a 2007 case, the Matter of Bobbijean P v. Stephanie P., the Appellate Division, for the Fourth Department vacated a lower court order prohibiting Stephanie P. from becoming pregnant in an Article 10 neglect proceeding. In that case, a child was born to parents who were both homeless and addicted to crack cocaine. The parents at this point already had three children who were in foster care. In what is normally called an “afterborn” case, the newborn was removed from the parents and placed with relatives under supervision of the Child Protective Agency (DHS) in Rochester, NY. Although the parents initially appeared on the case, they later failed to plan for the child and so the Family Court found the parents to have neglected their child. In the dispositional plan, the court ordered that the mother not get pregnant again until and unless she has actually obtained custody and care of her child and every other child of hers who is in foster care and has not been adopted or institutionalized. The Family Court stated that her right to have children was outweighed by society’s right not to have to support her children.
Did the lower court get it right? Do courts have the power to stop people from procreating? I believe that this case raised fundamental issues of personal liberty and governmental intrusion on that liberty.
The Fourth Department reversed the lower court and found that it did not have the authority to impose such a condition because the only power the Court actually had was that conferred to it by statute – and the statute did not explicitly nor impliedly authorize prohibiting procreation. The court did not address the constitutionality of the lower court ruling because it was able to resolve the case on State law grounds.