Originally created 05/16/04

Judge's order met with controversy

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - When a drug-addicted homeless woman had her newborn taken away last spring, she agreed the baby should be placed in foster care with her three other children.

A year later, a judge delivered a startling postscript: She ordered the parents to have no more children until they prove they can look after the ones they already have.

"All babies deserve more than to be born to parents who have proven they cannot possibly raise or parent a child," Family Court Judge Marilyn O'Connor wrote in a 12-page opinion.

"The cycle of neglect ... needs to stop."

The unusual ruling has outraged civil libertarians, and was made all the more difficult by the revelation that the mother of the 1-year-old girl is pregnant again.

But many lauded the government's desire to ensure children are raised in a healthy environment.

It was the first known decision of its kind in New York, but courts in Wisconsin and Ohio have upheld similar rulings involving "deadbeat dads" who failed to pay child support.

The infant's father, Rodney Evers, an admitted cocaine addict who stays periodically at the House of Mercy shelter for the homeless, described Judge O'Connor's judgment as demeaning.

"I can't abide by something like that," said Mr. Evers, 54, his gaunt face and graying goatee shaded by a baseball cap. "I know for a fact that God said 'be fruitful and multiply.' This is telling me I have to be celibate. Man cannot play God."

The couple have struggled for years to find work and shelter and both have admitted in court to abusing drugs and alcohol. Mr. Evers is the father of three of the four children, including a 6-year-old boy.

The youngest three, ages 4, 2 and 1, tested positive for cocaine at birth.

In a March 31 ruling made public last week, the judge said she was not forcing contraception or sterilization on the couple and was not requiring the mother to get an abortion should she become pregnant. But the couple could be jailed for contempt if they have another child.


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