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A Kentucky family court judge is urging deadbeat dads toward a rare method of reform: vasectomies. Campbell County Judge Michael Foellger has given repeat offenders who are in contempt of court the option of having a vasectomy in lieu of 30 days in jail. The judge said he has encouraged the procedure in the most egregious cases involving fathers who owe more than $10,000 in child support and have children with more than three women. “I’m not trying to make a statement,” asserted Foellger, who said that the idea arose in one particular case and he has repeated it in similar cases. Six male defendants have been given the option. One chose jail, one had a vasectomy, one has scheduled an appointment and three are still undecided. The judge claimed that a key factor in his decision to offer vasectomies to defendants was a medical opinion he sought from doctors who reported that the procedure is noninvasive and reversible. But moral objectors have still bombarded him with a tirade of e-mail. “I wasn’t elected by the church,” Foellger asserted. “I was elected by the people and my goal and purpose is to protect the children.” REGULATING THE BEDROOM? Foellger’s unusual methods are part of a growing trend by frustrated family court judges to limit procreation in an attempt to reform parents who fail to provide for their children, according to the Center for Fathers, Families and Public Policy. “[Family courts] are consistently trying to regulate what happens in the bedroom,” said Steve Sussman, the legal adviser at CFF. The Madison, Wis.-based group has taken a stand against the limits on procreation, saying there are better ways — like work programs — to help fathers pay child support. Court limits on procreation already have a footing in states beyond Kentucky. Family court judges in Ohio and Wisconsin have imposed similar restrictions on deadbeat dads. The pre-eminent case, Wisconsin v. Oakley, No. 99-3328, went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case of a five-year conception restriction imposed on a defendant who fathered nine children and owed $25,000 in unpaid child support. Laurence Tribe, a leading constitutional scholar, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on the defendant’s behalf, but certiorari was denied in 2002. The high court’s refusal to hear the issue has left the door open for other family court judges to follow, according to Sussman, whose group filed an amicus brief in Oakley. “When enough of these cases percolate, eventually the U.S. Supreme Court will look at this issue,” he asserted. Similar cases are already percolating. A March 31 decision by Monroe County, N.Y., family court Judge Marilyn O’Connor ordered an allegedly drug-addicted homeless couple to stop having children. The case , In the matter of BobbiJean P., No. NN 03626-03, was a first in New York. The couple’s four children were placed in foster care last year and the woman is pregnant again. The judge determined that they should be given free family planning to prevent future pregnancy. The 35-year-old mother is identified in court papers only as Stephanie. Rodney Evers, 54, is the father of three of the four children, including a 6-year-old boy. The younger children, ages 4, 2 and 1, tested positive for cocaine at birth. O’Connor said she was not forcing contraception or sterilization on the couple, nor requiring the mother to get an abortion. But she warned that the couple could be jailed for contempt if they violate her order to stop conceiving children. In a 12-page opinion, O’Connor rejected the argument that having unlimited children is a constitutional right, saying that the court must be allowed to balance the interest of privacy with those of the society that has to raise neglected children. Family lawyers have mixed feelings about supporting limits on procreation as a way to protect children. G. Keith Gambrel, who often acts as a guardian ad litem in cases before Foellger, said he understood why a judge would want to limit the number of children born in some cases. But he emphasized the constitutional right to bear children and the need to make restrictions on a case-by-case basis. “In the New York case, you’re preventing other children from being abused and neglected,” said Gambrel of Newport, Ky.-based Bonecutter & Gambrel. “But in the Kentucky cases, ordering a vasectomy still doesn’t help the children in getting what they are entitled to.”

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