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Family groups - women - Judge tells woman not to have more kids

Woman told by judge to have no more kids


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 said.

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 counseling sessions.

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 remains unclear.

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."

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