ROCHESTER, New York – A family court judge overstepped her authority by ordering a drug-addicted homeless couple to have no more children, a state appeals court ruled in overturning the ban.
Judge Marilyn O'Connor banned Stephanie Pendleton and Rodney Evers in 2004 from having more children until they could get back the four children they lost to foster care, three of whom tested positive for cocaine at birth.
Pendleton, now 38, challenged the ruling.
"We conclude that the court had no authority to prohibit (Pendleton) from procreating," a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court wrote Friday.
O'Connor had directed Pendleton and Evers to seek family planning services, parenting counseling and treatment for drug addiction.
"All babies deserve more than to be born to parents who have proven they cannot possibly raise or parent a child," O'Connor wrote. "This neglected existence is an immense burden to place on a child and on society."
That ruling drew fierce criticism from civil libertarians, particularly the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the appeal arguing that the ruling effectively required Pendleton to abstain from sex, use birth control or be sterilized.
The appeals judges denied O'Connor's contention that her right to declare a "no pregnancy" order is implied in a section of the law that allows a judge to impose medical treatment.
The appeals decision doesn't affect O'Connor's finding that the children were neglected, nor a ruling that their parents should be stripped of their parental rights. All four of Pendleton's children are in new homes.