Civil Liberties

Banning Fatherhood


It's not quite eugenics, perhaps, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees that it's OK for a judge to order David Oakley not to reproduce.

Oakley, 34, made such a mess of his right—or perhaps privilege—to reproduce that Manitowoc County Circuit Judge Fred Hazlewood ordered him in 1999, as a condition of his probation, not to sire any more children unless he proves he can support all of them. If his libido and nature get the best of him before the five-year probation is up, he could be tossed in the pokey for eight years. Oakley has already fathered nine children with four different women, and the state says he's $25,000 in arrears on child support.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Hazlewood's decision in July. That decision, which might be seen as pushing the envelope of judges' powers to intrude on a citizen's liberty, drew the usual small furor from reproductive rights groups, fathers' rights groups, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court split on pure gender lines, with the four men upholding the no-kids ruling and the three women dissenting. One female justice, Ann Walsh Bradley, noted that the ruling places any hapless woman impregnated by the impecunious Oakley in an awkward position: Either "have an abortion, or be responsible for Oakley going to prison for eight years." Justice Diane Sykes objected to what she sees as "a compulsory, state-sponsored, court-enforced financial test for future parenthood."