Saturday, September 13, 2008

Texas Judge: No More Babies For You, Okay?


A judge in Travis County has ordered a woman to stop having children as a condition of her probation in her case of injury to a child by omission, an extraordinary measure that legal experts say could be unconstitutional.

The order was for Felicia Salazar, 20, who admitted to failing to provide protection and medical care to her then-19-month-old daughter last year. The girl suffered broken bones and other injuries when she was beaten by her father, Roberto Alvarado, 25, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Alvarado and Salazar relinquished their parental rights, and the child, who has recovered, was placed in foster care.

On Sept. 5, state District Judge Charlie Baird sentenced Salazar, who had no criminal history, to 10 years of probation after she reached a plea bargain with prosecutors. In Texas, judges set conditions of probation. In addition to requiring Salazar to perform 100 hours of community service and to undergo a mental health assessment and setting other typical conditions, Baird told Salazar not to have any more children.

Should this woman be having more children? Probably not. Is it morally - or even legally - acceptable for a state representative to forbid her to conceive and bear children? It's an interesting question.

There is precedent, after all:

[I]n a past Wisconsin case, a father of nine who was convicted of intentionally failing to pay child support was ordered to have no more children as a condition of probation. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin upheld that condition.

I enjoyed the Judge's reasoning that, if he had sent her to jail instead of issuing this condition, she wouldn't have been able to conceive or bear children anyway since she would have been incarcerated. Consequently, he claimed that the condition was quite reasonable.

Colour me skeptical. To begin with, this seems like a pretty unenforceable condition. Secondly, how much power should a judge have to decide how a person leads their life? If a judge decides that somebody represents an imminent danger to the public then he or she has the power to put the person in question in jail. Should a judge be able to restrict what a criminal does with his or her own body when there is no strong reason to suspect it would involve a crime?

Although it seems likely that this woman would not be a stellar parent to any child she may have in the future, my instinct is that she should not be forbidden from conceiving and bearing children simply because she may be a bad parent again. Given her history, I think it would be better to keep a close eye on her if she chooses parenthood again. Chances are, after this experience, she'll never have children again anyway.

H/t Hit & Run

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