“The referee’s decision had far-reaching implications for pregnant women, effectively stripping them of fundamental constitutional rights,” said Sarah Burns, Professor of Clinical Law at NYU Law and Director of the Reproductive Justice Clinic. Burns and her clinical students, joined by NAPW, the NYCLU, and nine other organizations, filed a brief in the case detailing how the referee’s interpretation of the relevant statute placed unconstitutional constraints on a woman’s basic life decisions, such as where she lives, works, and attends school while pregnant.
The Appellate Division’s decision today recognized that the child custody statute must conform to common sense and constitutional law. As a general rule, it made explicit that courts cannot hear custody matters that are filed prior to birth. As applied to Ms. McK’s case, it went further to underscore that her relocation should not have been relevant to New York State’s jurisdiction. Otherwise, the First Department reasoned, putative fathers could limit the movement of pregnant women, and, “[p]utative fathers have neither the right nor the ability to restrict a pregnant woman from her constitutionally-protected liberty.”
Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of amici NAPW, was pleased to see the decision address and protect the constitutional rights implicated. “This decision affirms that women who become pregnant may not be penalized for exercising their rights to travel and to seek an education,” she said. Katharine Bodde of amici the NYCLU concurred, adding, “Pregnant women are often denied their rights and dignity. Today’s decision recognizes important constitutional principles including a woman’s right to liberty, equal opportunities under the law, and reproductive freedom.”
Amici: National Advocates for Pregnant Women, New York Civil Liberties Union, MotherWoman, Inc., National Organization for Women in New York City, Choices in Childbirth, Service Women’s Action Network, Planned Parenthood of New York City, NOW-New York State, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, Backline, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, and the California Chapter of National Organization for Women.
Read Brief of Amicus Curiae NAPW, NYCLU and others together with Family Court Referee’s decision here: http://tinyurl.com/puddnk8.
Read decision of the Appellate Division, First Department, here: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_07554.htm