Bode Miller and Another Chapter in the "Fetuses Are/Are Not Babies" Discussion
Olympic skier Bode Miller is the latest high-profile person to get involved in the contentious debate over parental privileges, and the outcome of his case speaks volumes about the rights of pregnant women.
Here are the facts:
Miller got Sara McKenna pregnant in April 2012 in California. McKenna got into Columbia University (she's a former Marine and firefighter, so her tuition is being paid by the G.I. Bill), and decided to move to New York in October 2012. Miller married someone else. In November 2012, Miller filed a "Petition to Establish a Parental Relationship" and indicated he was the father of a child that was not yet born. He also filed paperwork for custody of a child who "resides in or is found in this county [though the child in question was currently residing in Sara McKenna's uterus, and Sara McKenna was moving out the county]." In December 2012 McKenna moved to NYC.
In February 2013 the baby (McKenna calls him Sam, Miller calls him Nate) was born, and McKenna went to New York Family Court to file for custody. The judge threw the case back to the California courts, stating that he believed McKenna had moved to New York specifically because the state laws regarding custody are different in NY than in CA. He also ignored the fact that, when McKenna moved 3,000 miles away from the married guy she used to casually date, the "child" in question was a fetus, and thus was not actually referred to in state child custody law. The California courts granted primary custody to Miller, and separated McKenna from her child. New York is trying to get the case back into their appeals court to reverse the sentence, but the California court hasn't given it up yet.
Why This Matters:
This matters because, as Emily Bazelon wrote for Slate, "it is not up to fathers, or courts, to dictate where pregnant women live." Women, by virtue of being the ones who carry the baby, indicate where the child will be born by their own movement. Fathers do not. That doesn't mean fathers should be stripped of any and all rights, it just means that women's rights to move freely need to be protected, and that the courts need to recognize that a pregnant woman should not be penalized if she wants to move away from the father of her unborn child because the child is just that, unborn.
This case shows a blatant disregard for the rights of pregnant women in favor of the rights of fathers. That said, the issue is an incredibly complicated one. Family courts are supposed to rule in the best interest of the child, something that becomes complicated when the child is too young to speak for themselves, and further complicated as non-traditional family setups become more and more normal. There is no perfect solution, but restricting the rights of women to move as they please due to pregnancy is certainly not it.