Does a father have the right to be present at the birth of his child? In New Jersey, the answer to this question, in some cases, is no, according to a recent court decision in which a Superior Court judge ruled that, in certain situations, pregnant mothers can ban fathers from entering the delivery room during childbirth, and are likewise not even obligated to disclose to dads that they have gone into labor.
Cited as the first time any state has ruled on the issue of fathers' rights during childbirth, the case before Passaic County Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed concerned an unmarried couple, Rebecca DeLuccia and Steven Plotnik, who ended their relationship sometime during DeLuccia's pregnancy with Plotnik's child. Plotnik wanted access to his baby from birth and filed a motion to be present during DeLuccia's labor. In a strange case of bad timing, the case ended up being argued over the telephone while Rebecca DeLuccia was in labor! The judge denied Plotnik's motion and, after hanging up the phone, DeLuccia went on to deliver a healthy baby girl.
As for the basis of this decision, it all boiled down to a woman's right to privacy meaning more than a father's need to be in the delivery room during his child's birth. "A father's interest in the child pre-birth is not equal to the mother's interest," the judge wrote. "The court further finds that it would be an undue burden on the mother to require her to notify the father when she is in labor or require his presence during labor. It would invade her sphere of privacy and provide unwarranted strain on the mother."
To be clear, Mohammed's ruling pertains specifically to "putative fathers," or biological fathers not wed to the mother. It does not address the rights of married fathers to be present at the birth of their children.
In the wake of this ruling, it is understandable why fathers' rights groups have gone on high alert. While the right to privacy is an unquestionable one, is there research that can inform us about early interactions between fathers and newborns? If the mother does not want the father present at birth, at what point does he have a right to see his child?
There are other situations and scenarios that may be affected by this ruling, or at a minimum, fall into a very gray area. For example, what about an unmarried lesbian couple that breaks up while one partner is pregnant with a child they both intend to parent? What about a surrogate mother? Does she still have the right to ban the couple whose child she's carrying from the delivery room, even if they had previously agreed to this arrangement?
When it comes to child custody, we always talk about "the best interest of the child" as being the central guiding legal concept. This case talks about a mother's right to privacy vs. a father's right to be in the delivery room. In this case, the Courts have ruled that a mother's privacy trumps. But what about a mother's right to privacy vs. a newborn's right to immediately bond with both biological parents, or the parents who will raise him? In this match up, the outcome is still up for debate.