By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey this week became the first U.S. state to allow pregnant women to bar the fathers of their children from the delivery room while giving birth, under a court ruling.
Mothers-to-be are also not obligated to inform fathers they have gone into labor, according to a decision published Monday by Passaic County Superior Court Judge Sohail Mohammed.
Citing a patient's right to privacy as well as a pregnant woman's right to control her body, the ruling said a father's desire to be present during birth does not outweigh the choice of the mother.
"A father's interest in the child pre-birth is not equal to the mother's interest," the judge wrote. "The court further finds that it would be an undue burden on the mother to require her to notify the father when she is in labor or require his presence during labor. It would invade her sphere of privacy and provide unwarranted strain on the mother."
Mohammed's ruling pertains specifically to "putative fathers," or biological fathers not wed to the mother. It does not address the rights of married fathers to be present at the birth of their children.
"According to the court's research, the issues of whether a putative father has a right to be notified when a woman enters labor, and whether a father has a right to be present at the child's birth over the mother's objection, have never been litigated in New Jersey or the United States," the judge wrote.
The ruling followed a dispute between a couple who had been engaged but were separated during the pregnancy. Steven Plotnick contended he had a right to be present during the birth of his child, while mother Rebecca DeLuccia said she neither wanted him in the delivery room nor would she notify him when she went into labor.
The case was argued over the telephone in November after DeLuccia went into the hospital to give birth.
Advocates for fathers' rights said the ruling, which took effect Monday, was discriminatory and backpedaled on gains for parents to share certain responsibilities equitably.
"It's 50 years behind the times," said Bruce Eden of Dads Against Discrimination. "It's another example of anti-male bias and discrimination in the New Jersey family courts and in U.S. courts."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)