A woman preparing to give birth can bar the father of their child from entering the delivery room, a New Jersey judge has ruled in one of the first cases of its kind nationwide.
The ruling settled a legal dispute that was argued the very day the woman gave birth. Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed said all patients — and pregnant women especially — enjoy strong privacy protections that let them decide who can be at their hospital bedside.
Fathers, on the other hand, have no established legal right to be present at the birth of their children, the judge wrote.
“Any interest a father has before the child’s birth is subordinate to the mother’s interests,” Mohammed wrote. “Even when there is no doubt that a father has shown deep and proper concern and interest in the growth and development of the fetus, the mother is the one who must carry it to term.”
The prenatal court battle played out in Passaic County last year and appears to have been the first of its kind in the nation, Mohammed wrote. Disputes between two unwed parents over who can be present at the child’s birth “have never been litigated in New Jersey or the United States,” he wrote.
It began after Rebecca DeLuccia and Steven Plotnick conceived a child, got engaged, and later called off the wedding in 2013.
“They were estranged from one another at the time delivery was approaching, for quite some time,” said DeLuccia’s attorney, Joanna Brick. “They weren’t communicating more than a little text here or there, ‘Are you alive?’ That kind of thing.”
Plotnick sued to get DeLuccia to inform him when she went into labor, and to grant him access to the baby at the hospital upon birth.
A court hearing was held the same day DeLuccia went into labor and delivered a girl, Brick said, with the mother participating in oral arguments via telephone conference from the delivery room. “The intensity was at a 20,” Brick recalled.
Mohammed ruled for DeLuccia that day — Nov. 19. His written decision was released Monday.
In his ruling, Mohammed said Plotnick’s goal of wanting to be near the child since the first moment was “laudable” but his “unwanted” presence in the delivery room could put stress on DeLuccia and harm the fetus.
In the weeks leading up to the child’s birth, DeLuccia had undergone testing for premature labor and stress, Brick said.
Mohammed wrote that “any mother is under immense physical and psychological pain during labor. … The order the father seeks would invade her sphere of privacy and force the mother to provide details of her medical condition to a person she does not desire to share that information with.”
Plotnick’s attorney, Laura Nunnink, said he never asked to be in the delivery room, only to be able to see the baby at the hospital as soon as possible after the birth.
“He wanted to be a very involved father from the instant his child was born,” Nunnink said. “It was important that he have the right to bond just as the mother would. … It was unfair that he not have that right from the day the child was born.”
Brick said that, from the start, DeLuccia “was going to provide him access to the child, as a visitor, through normal hospital procedure.”
Plotnick will not appeal Mohammed’s ruling because he was allowed to see the child after the birth, Nunnink said.
The mother’s privacy rights won the day, the judge wrote, because of a pair of landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion — Roe v. Wade from 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey from 1992. The high court established in those rulings that an expectant mother has a stronger right over her body and over her unborn child than the father. A court majority in Casey ruled that women are not even required to tell their spouses about abortions, Mohammed noted.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has also struck down a law requiring that minors notify their parents before they get abortions, ruling in 2000 that the law infringed on those minors’ privacy rights.
In light of the court rulings, Mohammed wrote, it strains logic to ask a pregnant woman to notify the father when she goes into labor.
Bruce Eden of Dads Against Discrimination called the ruling “another example of New Jersey’s anti-male discrimination in the family courts.”
Most custody awards and divorce settlements favor the mother or wife, and courts have found fathers have many financial obligations in rearing children, but not the same level of rights, he said. “It takes two to tango,” Eden said. “Why are they allowing only the mother?”
Brick said DeLuccia — now a single, working mother — was acting to protect her child’s health: “She did what she thought was right, to give birth in a stress-free environment.”