A man and woman meet, go on a few dates, have sex, but then decide they are incompatible. She gets pregnant from this brief relationship and decides to move to a different state to pursue a college education so she can better care for the child, whom he says he has no interest in. Now, the child is born and the man marries someone else. Oh, and then he decides to sue for custody, claiming she stole his child by leaving California while pregnant.
A New York court has agreed, and has allowed him to have the child.
This nightmare scenario has played out in the case of Sarah McKenna, who briefly dated and got pregnant by Bode Miller, an Olympic skier. Miller began dating someone else, whom he married, and a few months into the pregnancy McKenna chose to leave California and move to New York to go to college with her GI Bill, the New York Times reports. Miller decided to file for paternity and custody in California, and a New York judge declared that the California legal filings superseded McKenna’s filing for custody of her own child in New York. The infant was taken from McKenna and given to Miller and his wife, instead.
According to the New York family court, McKenna’s “appropriation of the child while in utero was irresponsible, reprehensible.” However, that leads to the logical question: what other options would that leave a pregnant person?
The precedent set by the family court’s ruling are both undeniable and disturbing for those who support women’s rights. In essence, the court is arguing that once a person is pregnant, she no longer has any right to make any decision about her own future, even if it will affect the future of the child, without the consent of the person who got her pregnant. That rule would apply even in cases where the father of the child no longer has a relationship with the person who is carrying it. It would provide the person who got her pregnant with unlimited control, with her unable to take a new job, return home to a family for assistance, or make any other life change involving a different state even if those changes would be in the best interest of her and the baby.
Should the ruling stand, the courts would literally be saying that once you are pregnant, you have lost the ability to make life decisions without the consent of the person who impregnated you. The idea is terrifying to anyone who believes in personal rights and autonomy.
News reports state that Miller originally wanted McKenna to get an abortion, which she refused to do. Yet abortion is one reason why even those who consider themselves pro-life should be up at arms over this case. For McKenna, the simplest way to remove Miller’s ability to control her — and, apparently, put her tens of thousands of dollars into debt with legal bills – would have been simply not to have continued the pregnancy. With high profile cases like this, more women and teens when faced with an unplanned pregnancy with a partner they have no intention of having an ongoing relationship with will see the hardship that can come with being forced to keep the father of their child in their life in some form.
A review of the case on appeal has Miller and McKenna back in front of New York judges, now, and McKenna has been given temporary custody of her son while the couple try to mediate a real custody and mediation plan. Regardless of how this case turns out in the end, however, some serious damage has already occurred that cannot be as easily reversed. The entire incident has exposed the faction of family court judges who truly believe that a father’s rights need to be so protected that a pregnant woman should lose her own liberties in order to keep his intact. They believe that once pregnancy begins, the rights of the fetus and, more importantly, those of the fetus’ father should always come before the woman carrying it.
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