Do fathers have a ‘right’ to be in the delivery room?

Yesterday, a New Jersey court ruled that a woman delivering a baby has a right to bar the biological father from the delivery room. The father, previously engaged to the mother, but no longer, had, according to the court, no established legal right to be present at the birth of their children.

As a dad, it pains me to see a father not be able to be present at the birth–it’s an incredibly emotional moment. Pregnancy, to men, is very external. I will freely admit the first time I felt a full connection to my son was in the immediate moments after he was born. This was a dad that, by all accounts, appeared to want to be very involved in the child’s life.

As an advocate of medical privacy and women’s reproductive rights, I have a hard time ‘forcing’ a mother who is delivering a child to have someone in the delivery room that she clearly does not want to be there. It’s the very definition of fence-sitting, I know.

This case, I realize, it’s fairly unique. It’s an unmarried couple, they were by most measures estranged, and the mother had no objection to the father seeing the child through normal visiting procedures. Fathers being in the delivery room is really, a rather new concept. Humans have been reproducing and delivering babies for hundreds of thousands of years, and in modern history, fathers have only been part of the delivery room for about the last 50-70 years.

As a white male, I’m not big on “men’s rights”. I think fathers do have rights, and I’m encouraged that the father’s role in the family is more than simply financial these days. But do I think those rights supersede those of the birth mother, at least in pregnancy?

It’s a gray area. For the most part, while the baby is in utero, the mother’s wishes are supreme. The mother has the right to make medical decisions or decline medical care, without consent, including termination, but also any decisions regarding her or the baby’s health during pregnancy. Delivery, then, is still a medical decision, and one that the woman, as the carrier of the child, should have a right to decide who is in the room with her–even if the father wants to be there.

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