Family groups - women - Judge tells woman not to have
A woman got permanent custody Thursday of three of the four
children of a homeless, drug-addicted cousin ordered by a
judge to have no more babies until she proved she could look
after the ones she already had.
"I've been with them through everything
they've gone through," Blanche Jackson, 47, said at a
hearing to determine the guardianship of the children, ages
6, 5 and 1, that she has looked after since infancy.
Their biological mother, a 35-year-old identified in court
papers only as Stephanie, became the subject of a national
debate about parental responsibilities this spring when a
Family Court judge, Marilyn O'Connor, told her and her partners
that they should have no more children.
Stephanie has struggled for years to find work
and shelter and has admitted abusing drugs. Her three youngest
children tested positive for cocaine at birth _ the eldest
was not tested.
After a half-hour hearing in which Jackson was
the only witness, O'Connor decided "it is in the best
interests of the three children" that Jackson be granted
sole and permanent custody. She previously had temporary custody,
an arrangement that was reviewed each spring.
"She has provided the children with financial
stability, adequate housing, education ... and the comfort
and the loving care that children should have," the judge
Stephanie's fourth child, a 2-year-old boy,
was placed in foster care days after she delivered him in
May 2002. His foster mother, LaFonda Flagler, is now seeking
to adopt him.
Neither Stephanie nor her partners _ the two
older children and the two youngest ones have separate fathers
_ "have shown any interest" in them, O'Connor said
in denying visitation rights.
The biological parents can still appeal to obtain
visitation privileges, said the judge, who was still weighing
whether to terminate their parental rights.
"They do retain certain rights but they
will have to exercise them," she said.
At an earlier hearing, O'Connor noted that the
biological parents have failed to comply with orders that
they undergo treatment for drug addiction and attend parenting-skills
In the first known decision of its kind in New
York state, O'Connor warned Stephanie in a March 31 ruling
that she could be jailed for contempt if she had another child.
O'Connor said she was not forcing contraception
or sterilization on her or requiring her to get an abortion
should she become pregnant. Relatives have since revealed
that Stephanie, who is being sought on a drug warrant, became
pregnant with a fifth child in March. The status of the pregnancy
O'Connor's unusual ruling outraged civil libertarians,
while others lauded the government's desire to ensure children
are raised in a healthy environment.
The 66-year-old Democrat, whose son is Hollywood
actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, maintained that under U.S. Supreme
Court decisions, "the rights to conceive and to raise
one's children have been deemed `essential"' as opposed
to merely establishing that "the right to conceive a
child is essential."
Her analysis, countered Donna Lieberman,
executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union,
is "incompatible with the protection of the right to
procreate and raises serious and bizarre issues regarding
... what goes on in the bedroom."