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Pa. Judge Bars Woman From Having Abortion

Father Says He Wants to Keep Child

By Joann Loviglio
Associated Press
Monday, August 5, 2002; Page A03

PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 4 -- Abortion rights advocates are urging courts to immediately overturn a judge's decision to temporarily bar a woman from ending her pregnancy.

The order came in a lawsuit filed by John Stachokus, who wants former girlfriend Tanya Meyers to carry her pregnancy to term. Stachokus says he is willing to take full or partial custody of the child and says in his suit that Meyers is being pressured by her mother to have the procedure.

Lawyers representing Meyers called the order "a miscarriage of justice," while abortion opponents and fathers' rights groups praised it, saying men should have a say in the outcome of a pregnancy they helped create.

Luzerne County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Conahan issued the temporary injunction on Wednesday. He did not say when he would issue a final ruling but has asked both sides to submit briefs by Monday.

Until then, Meyers, 22, who is 10 weeks pregnant, has been forbidden from having an abortion.

"There is truly no legal basis for the injunction to be in effect. It's a miscarriage of justice, an abuse of the legal system and an absolute disgrace," said Susan Frietsche, an attorney with the Women's Law Project and co-counsel for Meyers.

Frietsche and other women's advocates said the judge's injunction runs counter to legal precedents establishing that the decision whether to have an abortion is the woman's choice alone.

Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said she could not recall another case of a court prohibiting a woman from having an abortion.

"It absolutely stunned me when this happened. It's clearly an error as a matter of law," she said. "You wonder what judge in this country is unaware that women in this country have the right to choice."

Meyers's lawyers filed an emergency appeal Thursday in state Superior Court in Harrisburg, seeking to lift the injunction. That court instead asked Stachokus's attorney to submit additional legal papers by Tuesday.

Meyers's lawyers filed a similar petition with the state Supreme Court, which denied the appeal but reserved the right to revisit the issue later.

"It is unbelievable that this travesty has now been sanctioned at all levels of the Pennsylvania courts," said Linda Rosenthal, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy and lead counsel arguing on Meyers's behalf.

Antiabortion and fathers' rights groups defended the judge's action.

"We talk about fathers negatively so often, about how they don't want to be responsible for their children, and this guy is doing everything he can to be sure his unborn child isn't aborted," said Dianna Thompson, executive director of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children. "Men's rights are trampled on all the time when it comes to reproductive rights."

Stachokus's attorney, John P. Williamson, said Meyers, who has a 2-year-old child, had been coerced into deciding on an abortion by her mother, who disliked Stachokus.

"They had picked out godparents for the baby, she had picked out names, then there was a sudden turnaround," Williamson said. "We want an injunction that says no abortion is allowed and this baby lives."

Neither Meyers nor Stachokus could be reached for comment.

Meyers had filed for a protection-from-abuse order from Stachokus, 27, an emergency dispatcher she met 10 months ago. She said he had threatened and harassed her since their breakup on July 22.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


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