Judge Imposes Birth Control To Prevent Lapeer Woman from Having More Children

July 08, 2003

DETROIT – In a blatant attack on personal privacy rights, a Lapeer County judge ordered a woman to submit to a medically "verifiable" method of birth control in an abuse and neglect proceeding regarding her other children, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan who filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the woman. The Michigan Court of Appeals will decide the case without oral argument on Wednesday, July 9.

“This kind of unwarranted government intrusion is precisely what was found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last week,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.  “Imagine if a woman was pregnant, and the family court had ordered that she have an abortion against her will.  Such a requirement would clearly violate her constitutional rights, just as the order requiring Ms. Gamez to use contraception violates her right to reproductive choice. Women are not chattel.” 

In January 2003, the Lapeer County Family Court held a formal hearing on allegations against Renee Gamez of possible physical neglect of her two minor children due to drug use.  During this hearing, Judge Michael P. Higgins, stated that he wanted to prevent Ms. Gamez from having any further children.  He indicated that he wanted to place Ms. Gamez on a form of birth control that could be verified by a doctor, such as an intrauterine device (IUD) or Depo Provera.  Ms. Gamez objected because of personal concerns and prior medical complications. 

Both Depo Provera injections and intrauterine device’s (IUD), are intrusive measures with potentially serious side effects, including depression, repeated and very painful headaches, decreased bone density, which leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis, and irregular menstrual bleeding.  For certain women, Depo Provera should never be prescribed.  Studies have also associated Depo Provera with an increased risk of breast cancer in some women.  IUDs may also cause hemorrhaging, anemia, and increased menstrual bleeding.

Judge Higgins also justified a prohibition on Ms. Gamez having an additional child because there could be a risk that the child might have "special needs."  “Does this mean that the state may limit the procreation of parents whose families have a history of genetic disorders and who therefore risk having a ‘special needs’ child?” asked Moss.  “The state interest in protecting children and promoting healthy families is best served by providing them with access to health care, education, and social services, not by imposing unconstitutional conditions on mothers.” 

The case will be decided by Judge William B. Murphy, Judge Jessica R. Cooper and former Justice Charles L. Levin.

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