Judge to Mother Battling Addiction: No More Pregnancies Until You Are Fit to Parent Again

By Kelly Burch 02/21/17

The now-retired judge hopes that the ruling will encourage the mother of four to find a reliable birth control option.

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A New York judge has ordered a drug user to avoid getting pregnant again until she is fit to care for her four children who have been removed from her custody. 

"The testimony in this case clearly established that the mother had little or no prenatal care, that the baby was born prematurely with a positive toxicology for illegal drugs, and that the mother admitted use of illegal drugs during her pregnancy," Family Court Judge Patricia Gallaher wrote in the December decision, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.

The mother in the case, identified as Brandy F., gave birth to a baby at 29 weeks in July. The boy immediately showed signs of withdrawal. During the pregnancy Brandy used cocaine, methadone and alcohol, according to court documents. Brandy had two other children born dependent on drugs in 2014 and 2011, and a son who was removed from her care in 2007. 

Judge Gallaher, of Monroe County, pointed out that state caseworkers can provide birth control options to Brandy at no cost, according to a New York social services law that requires that caseworkers "advise eligible needy persons periodically of the availability at public expense of family planning services for the prevention of pregnancy."

Although the contraceptive services can be offered, a person cannot be required to use them, which puts Gallaher’s ruling on complicated legal ground. 

Because of that, the case has drawn the attention of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) which is considering assisting with an appeal.

"I understand why the judge may have had good intentions here," said KaeLyn Rich, director of the Genesee Valley chapter of the NYCLU. "[But] we don’t want to set a precedent that the court has the authority to tell a woman not to get pregnant or a man not to procreate.”

A similar 2004 ruling, also in Monroe County, by Judge Marilyn O’Connor was overturned on appeal. O’Connor said that in her experience, caseworkers did not discuss the option of free birth control with clients, and she hoped that her ruling and the more recent ruling would change that. "The law requires it," she said. "And they just don't do it."

Gallaher admitted that her ruling would be tough to enforce, since sending the woman to jail for a future pregnancy wasn’t her intention. However, she hopes that the ruling will encourage Brandy and the county to work together to choose a reliable birth control option.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.