The Manhattan Appellate Division ruled Friday that Sara A. McKenna’s baby should not have been sent back to California to live with his father, Olympic skier Bode Miller, the latest ruling in a very public custody battle that set off a contentious debate over women’s rights.
McKenna, 27, and Miller, 36, met in California via the high-end matchmaking service Kelleher International. In the span of their brief relationship, McKenna became pregnant with Miller’s child, the New York Times reported. McKenna, a firefighter and ex-marine, decided to move to New York to enroll in school at Columbia through the G.I. Bill in December, when she was seven month pregnant.
As the couple had already been arguing about plans for the child, Miller accused McKenna of fleeing to a state that would win her a favorable ruling. The New York court agreed. When the baby was born, McKenna filed for temporary custody in New York. A Family Court referee refused to grant her custody, calling her conduct “unjustifiable” and accusing her of “forum shopping.”
The court said that McKenna’s “appropriation of the child while in utero was irresponsible, reprehensible,” and ruled to leave the case in California, where Miller was then able to secure custody of the child.
Miller had since married Morgan Beck, a beach volleyball star and model he started dating around the time McKenna became pregnant.
But on Nov. 14, a New York appeals court ruled that McKenna’s basic rights had been violated, stating, “Putative fathers have neither the right nor the ability to restrict a pregnant woman from her constitutionally protected liberty.”
The case has women’s rights’ activists alarmed, with the implication that custody begins when a child is still in the womb.
“Especially with current political pressures to recognize separate legal rights for fetuses, there will be increasing calls on the courts to fault a pregnant woman for moving, to restrain women from living their lives because they’re pregnant,” said Sarah E. Burns, the head of the Reproductive Justice Clinic at the New York University law school.
The Daily Mail covered the nasty Twitter war that took place between the parents, with accusations flying on both sides. McKenna maintains that Miller did not want her to have the baby and had no interest in helping parent it while she was pregnant.