John Stachokus was mad. In fact, he was downright furious.
Tanya Meyers, his girlfriend of 10 months, had broken up with him, and, even worse,
he learned that she was nine weeks pregnant and was planning to have an abortion.
Angry words were exchanged. Then, with an abortion planned for Tuesday, July 30,
Meyers learned the day before that Stachokus had gone to court, asked for an injunction
blocking the abortion and, amazingly, had gotten it.
Last week, the two squared off in a Pennsylvania courtroom, with Meyers arguing
that she had a right to an abortion if she chose, and Stachokus arguing that,
as the child's father, he had the right to force her to have the baby. This week,
a Pennsylvania judge lifted the injunction. But the fact that an ex-boyfriend
was allowed to drag Meyers into court - putting her name and face and predicament
all over the news - over a private decision that was hers alone to make is dumbfounding.
The United States Supreme Court has said repeatedly that a woman isn't required
to get the consent of her husband - much less a boyfriend - to have an abortion.
Since "it's the woman ... who is the more directly and immediately affected by
the pregnancy, as between the two, the balance weighs in her favor," the court
I don't know if the Pennsylvania judge who issued the injunction against Tanya
Meyers and the other judge who allowed it to stand for a week were just unfamiliar
with the law, or if they let their own feelings about the case interfere with
I asked Stachokus' lawyer, John P. Williamson, what kind of case his client thought
he had. He said that the prior Supreme Court decisions applied only to state laws
that required a father's consent to an abortion. His client's case had nothing
to do with any law, but with a father's common-law interest in his unborn child,
Williamson is wrong. A 1989 decision by a Pennsylvania court, in a case almost
identical to this one, said emphatically that a boyfriend doesn't have the right
to keep his girlfriend from having an abortion.
On Monday, Common Pleas Judge Michael Conahan lifted the injunction, saying that
in trying to block Meyers' abortion, Stachokus had caused her undue emotional
stress and had possibly endangered her health.
"This right is not subject to being vetoed by a woman's husband or partner," the
judge said. "Neither an ex-boyfriend nor a fetus has standing to interfere with
a woman's choice to terminate her pregnancy."
In short, the essence of choice is that, within certain legal limits, it belongs
to the woman, and no one else. Is this fair to men? Not entirely. After all, if
a man impregnates a woman and she decides, against his wishes, to have the baby,
he still gets stuck with the child-support bill. Yet he has no say about whether
she has an abortion. Too bad.
I feel for Stachokus. He clearly felt strongly about losing his chance at fatherhood.
He claimed that he was willing to take full or partial custody of the baby, or
assume no role at all, as long as the child could be born.
But I wonder. If he were biologically able to assume Meyers' pregnancy, if he
faced the choice of carrying the child himself for another 25 weeks, of dealing
with the physical changes to his body, the displacement from work, the experience
of childbirth, the responsibility of not just supporting the child financially,
but of nursing it, tending to it all day (not shunting the child off to a nanny
or girlfriend), would he still be so adamant about continuing the pregnancy? I
That this case was allowed to proceed proves that even though the Supreme Court
has been very clear about women's rights, individuals with their own ideas about
a man's right to impose his will on a woman permit dramas like these to be acted
Judge Conahan's decision to lift the injunction was correct. It came too late,
though. Tanya Meyers has since suffered a miscarriage.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.