In a strongly worded decision, Judge Michael Conahan said the ex-boyfriend, John Stachokus, 27, had failed to cite any legal authority establishing that he had a right to prevent an abortion by Tanya Meyers, now about 10 weeks pregnant. Stachokus is the father. "The balance of the equities weighs heavily in favor of Meyers," Conahan ruled in Wilkes-Barre. "The delay in her procedure has inflicted significant... emotional distress on Meyers, and she faces increased medical risks due to the delay... . Furthermore, the denial of her constitutional right to effectuate her abortion decision is in itself immediate and irreparable harm."
Stachokus, a county emergency dispatcher, went to court eight days ago to try to force Meyers to carry the pregnancy to term. He could not be reached for comment yesterday. His lawyer, John P. Williamson of Broomall, said through an associate that he would file an appeal in Superior Court.
Meyers declined to say whether she would immediately go ahead with the abortion, originally scheduled for last Tuesday. She said she wanted to avoid further publicity and interference. "It feels like my life has been so exposed," she said. "Earlier, I was dying to tell my side of the story. But it's been emotional torture for the past week. Now, I just want it to quiet down." As she spoke, several reporters knocked on her front door, which her 2-year-old son obligingly opened. She told them she had no comment.
"So many women in my own community have spoken out against me," she said. "That has really bothered me, because I thought I was fighting for their rights as well as mine. Maybe they don't want those rights now, but someday they might."
If Meyers chooses to have the abortion, Stachokus' appeal would not automatically stop her, said one of her lawyers, Susan Frietsche of the Women's Law Project in Pittsburgh.
During a hearing before Conahan last week, Stachokus said that Meyers initially was happy about the pregnancy and wanted to get married, but that her mother coerced her into seeking an abortion. Meyers, in contrast, testified that Stachokus had been controlling and demeaning throughout their 10-month relationship. She said that on July 22, she confirmed the pregnancy and told him she wanted an abortion; she said he responded with anger and threats. Meyers subsequently obtained a temporary protection-from-abuse court order. She will return to court today to seek a permanent order.
A fathers'-rights group, the American Coalition for Fathers and Children in Washington, called the case "historic." "I've never had this many calls" about a legal case, coalition cofounder Dianna Thompson said. "This has struck a nerve. It was a long time coming."
The case, while unusual, is not unprecedented. Over the years, a number of men - including one in Pennsylvania in 1989 - have sought to prevent girlfriends or ex-girlfriends from having abortions. The cases did not get far, because the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that a woman has the right to end a pregnancy until the fetus can survive outside the womb, about 24 weeks. The father's rights do not trump the woman's rights to liberty and bodily integrity, the court has held. "Whatever rights a man has, they don't include getting the government to force a woman to bear a child for him," Frietsche said.
Fathers'-rights activists and abortion foes see inconsistency and inequity in the way society treats fathers. A man is required to pay support for a child born out of wedlock, even if the woman secretly reneged on a promise to use birth control. And a man's willingness to be a father is not as important as a woman's right to decline to be a mother.
Nicholas DiGiovanni, an abortion-rights activist with the American Life League, went to court in Louisiana in 1999 in an unsuccessful bid to stop a college friend from having an abortion. "We only went out a month, and she was scared she'd have to drop out of college," he recalled. "I couldn't blame her for that. I'm a guy, and it's hard for me to know what she was going through emotionally. But I accepted responsibility and offered to be a father... . Abortion destroys fatherhood. It undermines the efforts of fathers to accept responsibility."
The fate of Stachokus' appeal was not immediately clear yesterday. Last week, Meyers' lawyers sought to lift the county court injunction by filing an emergency appeal in state Superior Court. When that court requested more legal papers, Meyers' lawyers filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, but it, too, refused to intervene.