Ban Could Force Abortions, Judge Warns

Wisconsin Court Upholds Ruling Against Deadbeat Father

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MADISON, Wisconsin, JULY 12, 2001 ( A judge fears that a court decision which bars a man from fathering more children would potentially coerce women into having abortions.

The state Supreme Court ruled that a man who owes $25,000 in child support could be ordered not to father any more children while he´s on probation.

In 1999, David Oakley, the 34-year-old father of nine, was placed on probation for five years by a county circuit judge and ordered not to father more children, unless he showed means to support them all. He faced eight years in jail if he failed to comply.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court´s four male justices upheld the ban. «Here is a man who has shown himself time and again to be totally and completely irresponsible,´´ wrote Justice William Bablitch for the majority.

The three female justices disagreed, saying that having children is a basic human right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The high court is the first in the nation to declare such a ban legal, even though it would be difficult to enforce and could end up coercing women into having abortions, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote.

«It places the woman in an untenable position: have an abortion or be responsible for Oakley going to prison for eight years,´´ Bradley wrote.

Oakley has nine children by four women — sons ages 4, 5, 10 and 12, and daughters ages 3, 12, 16 and two who are 13. In his appeal, he argued the ban violated his constitutional right; a federal appeals court ruled against him earlier.

Prosecutor Thomas Balistreri said the ruling applies only to people like Oakley who refuse to pay child support, not to those who cannot pay.

Oakley´s lawyer, Timothy Kay, said in a statement the decision could open a «Pandora´s box´´ if it is expanded to other child support cases.

Julie Sternberg, of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, agreed that the decision could set a precedent in Wisconsin and subvert the rights of fathers who cannot pay child support. «No matter how insupportable this defendant may or may not be, to require that he not have children as a condition of his sentence is clearly a violation of the Constitution,´´ she said.

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