A New Jersey judge has issued a decision allowing a woman to bar her ex-fiance from the hospital delivery room while she gives birth to their baby. I should think so. I can't think of anything more embarrassing than being forced to have a man with whom I'd broken off having intimate relations and whom I wasn't eager to see again, period, watching me, while nearly naked, have to deal with the pain, stress, blood and general mess of childbirth. Especially if the guy was jerk enough to file a lawsuit against me so that he could barge his unwanted way to my bedside.
Common sense and respect for the feelings of hospital patients should have made this case a no-brainer. A New Jersey couple, Steven Plotnick and Rebecca DeLuccia, got engaged after DeLuccia discovered she was pregnant with Plotnick's child. The couple later called off the wedding and became seriously estranged. Plotnick then hired a lawyer and, according to a news report, "filed for an order to show cause seeking the right to be notified when DeLuccia went into labor and to be present at delivery, among other relief." It should have been an open-and-shut case: Case dismissed.
But the judge, Sohail Mohammed of Passaic County, decided, in his written ruling released this week (the birth of the couple's daughter took place in November), to turn this dubious cause of action into a landmark reproductive-rights case on the order of Roe vs. Wade. In fact, according to news reports, Mohammed actually cited Roe, the U.S. Supreme Court's famous 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to an abortion. Salvador Rizzo of the Star-Ledger writes:
The mother’s privacy rights won the day, the judge wrote, because of a pair of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion — Roe v. Wade from 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey from 1992. The high court established in those rulings that an expectant mother has a stronger right over her body and over her unborn child than the father. A court majority in Casey ruled that women are not even required to tell their spouses about abortions, Mohammed noted…. In light of the court rulings, Mohammed wrote, it strains logic to ask a pregnant woman to notify the father when she goes into labor.
And as if dragging abortion rights into the Plotnick-DeLuccia feud wasn't enough, the "fathers' rights" crowd has also jumped in. Here we go:
Bruce Eden of Dads Against Discrimination called the ruling "another example of New Jersey’s anti-male discrimination in the family courts."
Most custody awards and divorce settlements favor the mother or wife, and courts have found fathers have many financial obligations in rearing children, but not the same level of rights, he said. "It takes two to tango," Eden said. "Why are they allowing only the mother?"
Plotnick's lawyer, Laura Nunnink, chimed in:
"He wanted to be a very involved father from the instant his child was born," Nunnink said. "It was important that he have the right to bond just as the mother would. … It was unfair that he not have that right from the day the child was born."
The problem is that this isn't a case about "rights," reproductive or otherwise. The very idea that a baby's father -- or any other non-medical professional, for that matter -- has any sort of "right" to be in a delivery room is absurd. In fact, until relatively recently, dads were routinely barred from delivery rooms. Their job was to loiter patiently outside, and once they heard the joyful news, to hand out cigars. When that practice changed during the late 1960s, it wasn't to enable the father to "bond" with the baby or to have his own birthing experience, but to help the mother through her labor physically and psychologically. It was a kind of extension of Lamaze classes.
Mohammed's grandiose ruling has made a constitutional mountain out of a molehill of a parental snit. And he may set a dangerous precedent for the extension of theories of mothers' and fathers' "rights" into even more areas where they don't belong.
Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.