Judge Imposes Birth Control To Prevent Michigan Woman From Having More Children

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
July 8, 2003 12:00 am

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DETROIT - In a blatant attack on personal privacy rights, a Lapeer County judge has ordered a woman to submit to a medically ""verifiable"" method of birth control in an abuse and neglect proceeding regarding her two children, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the woman.

""This kind of unwarranted government intrusion is precisely what was found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last week in its decision striking down a Texas sodomy law,"" said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. ""Imagine if a woman was pregnant and the family court had ordered that she have an abortion against her will. Such a requirement would clearly violate her constitutional rights, just as the order requiring a woman to use contraception violates her right to reproductive choice. Women are not chattel.""

The ACLU's brief in Family Independence Center v. Renee Gamez was filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals on behalf of Renee Gamez, a resident of Lapeer County, which is located in western Michigan. The ACLU seeks a reversal of the ruling made by the Lapeer County Family Court.

In January 2003, the court held a formal hearing on allegations that Gamez was a drug abuser and may have physically neglected her two minor children.

During the hearing, Judge Michael P. Higgins stated that he wanted to prevent Gamez from having any further children. Judge Higgins indicated that he wanted to place Gamez on a form of birth control that could be verified by a doctor, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) or Depo‑Provera. Gamez objected because of personal concerns and prior medical complications.

According to the ACLU's brief, both Depo‑Provera injections and intrauterine devices (IUDs) are intrusive measures with potentially serious side effects including depression, painful and recurring headaches, irregular menstrual bleeding and decreased bone density, which leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis. For certain women, Depo‑Provera should never be prescribed.

The ACLU also noted that studies have associated Depo‑Provera with an increased risk of breast cancer in some women. IUDs may also cause hemorrhaging, anemia, and increased menstrual bleeding.

Judge Higgins justified his ruling by contending that an additional child could run the risk of having ""special needs."" Such reasoning, Moss said, would mean that the state might be able to limit the procreation of parents whose families have a history of genetic disorders and who therefore risk having a ""special needs"" child.

""The state interest in protecting children and promoting healthy families is best served by providing them with access to health care, education, and social services, not by imposing unconstitutional conditions on mothers,"" she said.

The Michigan Court of Appeals will decide the case without oral argument on Wednesday, July 9. The case will be decided by Judge William B. Murphy, Judge Jessica R. Cooper and former Justice Charles L. Levin.

A copy of the ACLU of Michigan's friend-of-the-court brief is available on line at: http://www.aclumich.org/pdf/briefs/brief-gamez-0703.pdf.

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