In Dozens Of Cases, Courts Punish Men for Failing to Control Pregnant People’s Actions

A stunning new report finds that family courts are penalizing men who don't act as their woman's keeper.

In Dozens Of Cases, Courts Punish Men for Failing to Control Pregnant People’s Actions
Image:seksan Mongkhonkhamsao (iStock by Getty Images)

An advocacy group has found that yes, family courts do discriminate against men in their proceedings—but not in the way incels think. Instead, men are being punished in family courts across the U.S. for failing to prevent the person pregnant with their child from doing something risky, like drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, or injecting narcotics.

A report released Friday by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women found that in 56 cases across 14 states going back to the 1990s, family courts said that men were actually responsible for civil child abuse or neglect for failing to stop a pregnant person from engaging in potentially risky behavior like drug use.

One man whose story is in the report was accused of turning a blind eye to his partner’s history of substance misuse—no matter that he had gone to Al Anon daily for five years. “How am I supposed to force her to stop?” he replied in court when asked about how he could have kept his child safe. “I don’t own her; she is not a pet. I cannot force her. Even if I was married to her, I could not force her to stop using drugs.”

He told the family welfare system that he didn’t know the woman had used alcohol or marijuana during her pregnancy. He also told the court that he “cannot recognize the effects or symptoms of heroin and methamphetamine use.”

Still, despite his self-education and continued support during the pregnancy, he was found to be civilly neglectful.

A number of other cases in the report focus on the fact that the prospective father should have known about the pregnant person’s risky behaviors. “These fathers are losing their ability to have a relationship with their children because according to the court, they failed to stop a pregnant person from consuming drugs or alcohol,” NAPW staff attorney Samantha Lee told Jezebel. “They cannot and should not be able to do that.”

These appellate-level decisions can have a wide impact as they set precedent for the state. New York and Texas make up the bulk of the cases identified by the advocacy group, but NAPW believes that “this is a severe, severe undercount of people who experience this,” Lee said. (Other cases were found in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia.)

The report also found that these cases intersect with the movement for fetal personhood. You cannot separate a fetus from the pregnant person’s body—yet these cases are attempting to do just that. The report says:

Cases punishing prospective fathers for not protecting the fetus from the mother are based on the factual impossibility of separating a fetus and a pregnant person, and represent an expansion of the state’s police power to control pregnant people’s actions and an egregious overreach by the state calling for a form of patriarchal control unprecedented in recent U.S. history.

These legal expansions into people’s lives also put pregnant people at risk for domestic violence. “What the court is asking for [is] for the partners of pregnant people to police them and report them, to physically force them to stop using drugs,” Lee said. “Each of those things really has the potential to exacerbate either an existing domestic violence situation or further isolate someone who may be experiencing a substance-use disorder.”

Then, both parents are thrown into chaotic family court systems where legal representation isn’t always guaranteed. The resulting civil cases tear families apart. In Tennessee, one man’s parental rights were terminated from his two older children because his pregnant partner gave birth to a baby who died within a day from pulmonary hypertension, supposedly due to drug exposure.

His alleged failure to stop her drug use led to two living children losing access to their father.

That can’t be what the child welfare system is for.

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