“I believe that every baby is born when and where he ought to be, to the parents he ought to be with.”
What rights does an unmarried father have regarding his newborn child?
Canadians may soon be exploring this issue, if a recent news story develops as expected. Nineteen-year-old Montrealer Peter Brassard went to court last December and had his infant son’s adoption annulled, nine days after he signed papers permitting it. The private adoption was arranged in Ontario, which allows the natural parents 21 days to withdraw their consent.
The child’s eighteen-year-old mother, Maureen Steenhill, also of Montreal, then successfully sought custody, preferring to keep the baby herself rather than allow the father to gain custody.
She has spoken angrily about the father’s interference in her decision to place the baby for adoption, and has made it clear that although she loves little Alexander dearly, she feels trapped and would still prefer that the baby be returned to the adoptive parents in Toronto.
Their story has been widely reported in Montreal and Toronto media, as well as nationally by the Globe and Mail and CBC television and radio. Without exception the reports have focused on the young mother’s point of view.
More than a few media watchers have likened the situation to the Chantal Daigle/Jean-Guy Tremblay abortion saga of two years ago, acknowledging of course, that unlike them this baby is, well, alive.
Some have argued – including the mother herself – that to acknowledge the father’s parental rights is an infringement on a woman’s right to control her own body. Steenhill could have had an abortion, and in fact considered the option, but chose to have the child and place him for adoption. Without full control over the fate of her child, it is argued, a woman does not really have control over her own body.
According to media reports, Steenhill and Brassard were intimate only once, she being on the rebound from a more serious relationship. When Steenhill discovered she was pregnant, she wanted to handle the situation herself. Brassard did not interfere in her decision and stayed away.
Neither he nor Steenhill’s family involved his parents, who were unaware their son had fathered a child until after Alexander was born and the adoption was underway.
With further curt action likely, Canadians may soon be examining the rights of unmarried parents. In the Steenhill/Brassard case, the interests of grandparents are also an issue, as the paternal grandparents are said to be strongly behind the push to gain custody, or at least access, to the baby.
But it is neither the mother’s rights nor father’s rights, nor indeed grandparents’ rights which are really the issue.
The rights of the baby must be the primary concern.
Does a child have the right to two married parents and a loving, stable home environment? Does he have the right to his blood relations?
I am reminded of the words of a very wise priest, spoken when counseling an unmarried mother who was in turmoil over what lay ahead for her newborn child. “People make mistakes,” he said, “but it is God Who gives life, and God never makes mistakes.”
I have often reflected upon the kindness and insight of this priest. His words are so obviously true when we think of babies born with handicaps, or babies born into poverty or war. Why would it be any less true for babies born to young, single parents?